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Electric cooperatives remain active in communities, align company and customer visions

By ALLISON MILES
May 15, 2011 at 12:15 a.m.


IntroductionFor most people, electricity is a good thing.

From cooling homes to running game systems and even keeping the light on while finishing a book before bed, that electric current is not just a benefit, but an absolute necessity.

But two types of companies deliver electricity throughout Texas.

Electric cooperatives are not-for-profit companies that typically serve more rural areas, while the bulk of the state's energy comes from investor-owned companies. Although some areas are duly served by both types of companies, typically only one or the other is available in a given area.

Here is some information on electric cooperatives and investor-owned companies, and the benefits of each.

Because electric cooperatives are owned by those they serve, the customers and companies' interests are fairly aligned, said Lindsey Durrett, corporate services division manager with Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative.

"They are our bosses," she said of the customers. "There's no conflict of interest, if you will, on where our focus is."

Cooperatives are not-for-profit organizations, so any margins left over at the end of the year go back to the membership, oftentimes as checks in the mail or bill credits.

Such entities also offer democratic member control, she said, explaining a cooperative's board of directors is elected from the membership. And, because the organizations are local, they remain involved in their communities.

"We sponsor many things like Little League teams," she said. "We will take part in chamber events and allow employees time to participate in community service."

Most people do not have the option to choose between cooperatives and investor-owned companies, said Elgin Janssen, a spokesman with AEP Texas. Generally, where a person lives determines which type of company can offer them electricity.

Port Lavaca resident Henry Saenz and his family do not live in an area where an electric cooperative is an option, but would go that route if possible.

Cooperatives reward their customers for doing business with them more often than other more traditional companies do, he said. Also, his friends who have co-op service tend to pay less for their electricity.

"It's something we would like to do, but we can't," he said. "It isn't possible."

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