Cooperatives in Perspective

In 1935, about 90% of the rural farms and communities in America had no electricity. The primary providers of electricity were investor-owned utilities, which saw little or no opportunity to profit from serving these customers. To bring electricity to everyone, President Franklin D. Roosevelt created, by executive order, the Rural Electrification Administration. When IOUs would still not provide service, farm communities across the country tapped financing from the REA and adapted the private co-op business model to deliver electricity in their communities.

Washington state electric cooperatives collect an average of $10,719 of revenue per mile of distribution line, compared to the IOUs that collect an average of $54,579 per mile of line and public power systems that collect $72,091 per mile.

Washington’s electric co-ops serve an average of 7.8 customers per mile of distribution line, compared to 39.7 customers per mile served by IOUs and 44.8 customers per mile served by public power systems. Electric co-ops bring electricity to less than 6% of the population, but serve about 25% of Washington’s land mass. Because of the rural nature of the territory served by electric co-ops in Washington, the co-ops invest an average of $3,564 in distribution infrastructure per customer, compared to an IOU which invest only $2,577, and public power systems which average $2,969 in distribution investment per customer.