What makes a utility great

By Justin LaBerge

For most folks, January is a time when we consider the all possibilities that lie before us in the next 12 months. A fresh calendar means a fresh start, and we can’t help but wonder how we can make the most of it.

Perhaps we’ll shed a few pounds. Or go back to school. Or finally write that book.

Illinois’ electric cooperatives have been doing the same thing on a much larger scale.

As we have discussed many times in the pages of Illinois Country Living, the energy industry is going through a period of unprecedented change.

New technologies and changing consumer expectations are prompting electric cooperatives and other utilities to ask big questions about the future.

How will we generate the electricity we need to power our lives, what services will energy consumers want, and how do we pay for these things in a manner that is fiscally responsible and fair to all co-op members?

To answer these questions, we need to ask one more question: What makes a utility great?

In the co-op family, the answer to that question is simple. The greatness of a cooperative rests in its membership.

If members are what make co-ops great, then it stands to reason that members should be at the heart of any plan for the future of our industry. And they are.

As part of a nationwide effort to develop new ideas for operating the utility of the future, America’s electric cooperatives are promoting a model called the “consumer-centric utility.”

A consumer-centric utility is one that offers safe, affordable and reliable power while helping members use and understand the energy technologies, products and services they desire.   It takes an open-minded approach to resource development, offers a broad range of energy services to meet consumer expectations, innovates in ways that benefit all consumers, and uses its size and expertise to bring that innovation to consumers at lower costs and with fewer risks.

If that sounds familiar, it’s because electric cooperatives already do many of these things. But as renewables, energy storage, home automation and other energy technologies move from the pages of science fiction novels into our homes and businesses, electric cooperatives are eager to help members make the most of these innovations.

In some ways, you could say that technology is finally catching up to the cooperative way of doing business.

It’s an approach that’s served our members well for 80 years, and it’s one we believe holds great promise for supporting energy innovation in a way that is safe, reliable, affordable and fair to all consumers. Because you––the members of the co-op––are what make Illinois  electric cooperatives great.

Justin LaBerge writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the Arlington, Va.-based service arm of the nation’s 900-plus consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives.