What member ownership means

by David Callis
Executive Vice President and General Manager

The more you use a phrase, the more apt you are to experience weariness or fatigue with it. We experienced this in October, repeatedly hearing the terms “default,” “defund” and “shutdown.” In everyday life, any one of those words will usually make you snap to attention. Yet when the use becomes repetitious, we tend to miss what it truly means.

For those of us involved in the electric cooperative business, it’s good to periodically take stock of how important the term “member-owner” truly is. To us on the supply side of the equation, the member-owners (that’s you) are the people for whom we work. We try to not lose sight of that.

Our central focus is to manage our systems for the good of the community. Safe, efficient and cost-effective operation of the system are rightly expected of us by the member-owners. That encompasses every aspect of the co-op, from the engineering design to line construction to accounting and customer service.

When our job requires handling legislative and regulatory affairs, we don’t focus on maximizing profits. Cooperatives are nonprofit companies that recover the money needed to operate the business and build for the future — no more, no less. In analyzing the impact of regulations, we focus on the impact to you. Our concern is your bottom line — your wallet and your well-being.

We’re currently facing a number of challenges — more than just keeping the lights on. The use of sensitive electronic devices has increased, so it’s critical to have a clean, uninterrupted supply of electricity. More than ever, technologies allow all of us to monitor and manage our use remotely. That helps improve service and lower costs for everyone, but technology comes at a price, as does adding renewable energy sources and making the emissions from older power plants cleaner.

So, what about the other side of the equation? There are responsibilities required of you as a member-owner.

Mostly, you need to stay informed.

We use every avenue possible to do that: The Tennessee Magazine, newsletters, newspapers, radio, television, your co-op’s website and social media outlets, emails and text messages. Many co-ops have customer meetings, and every co-op has an annual membership meeting.

Financial reports and legislative updates aren’t much of a drawing card, so we try to entice you to attend annual meetings, where members are more than happy to get free stuff — food, entertainment, door prizes and other giveaways.

We also want you to take away something else that’s free: information. You need to stay informed about the cooperative’s financial condition and how it is meeting the needs of the community. Our boards are composed of member-owners, so it’s a pretty good idea for you to keep tabs on how your fellow members are managing the co-op.

A lot of members take an active interest in the ownership of their cooperative. I’ve seen that firsthand this year. At a mid-sized co-op, a board election resulted in a five-vote margin of victory for the challenger. Nearly 1,500 members were motivated enough to actively participate. Three years earlier, that same challenger lost by the same five-vote margin.

Stay informed and be an active member-owner. Above all, don’t be an uninformed member or voter; we’ve seen the path that takes us down. Remember October’s shutdown?

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