The nation’s consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives are unique within the $391 billion U.S. electric utility industry. More than 900 cooperatives in 47 states provide electric service to almost three-quarters of the nation’s landmass.
By providing safe, affordable and reliable power, many cooperatives are significant economic drivers within their local communities.
Co-ops are much more than energy companies: concern for community is a core principle of the cooperative business model. Typical cooperative-sponsored economic development initiatives include revitalization projects, job creation, improvement of water and sewer systems and assistance in delivery of health care and educational services.
In short, co-ops seek to improve the quality of life for their members and their communities.
An Overview of America’s Electric Cooperative Network
Compiled by the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association
Electric cooperatives are:
- Private, independent, non-profit electric utility businesses
- Owned by the customers they serve
- Incorporated under the laws of the states in which they operate
- Established to provide at‑cost electric service
- Governed by a board of directors elected from the membership which sets policies and procedures that are implemented by the cooperatives’ management
Distribution cooperatives are the foundation of the electric cooperative network. They are the direct point of contact with the member-owners in the delivery of electricity and other services. Generation & Transmission cooperatives (G&Ts) provide wholesale power to distribution co‑ops through their own generation or by purchasing power on behalf of the distribution members.
Facts at a Glance
- 834 distribution and 63 G&T cooperatives, a total of 897 NRECA co-op members, serve an estimated 42 million people in 47 states
- Co-ops serve more than 19 million businesses, homes, schools, churches, farms, irrigation systems and other establishments in 2,500 of 3,141 counties in the U.S.
- Co-ops own assets worth $175 billion (distribution and G&T co-ops combined) employ 71,000 people in the U.S.
- Co-ops invest about $13 billion annually in new plant equipment
Within the Electric Utility Industry
- Nearly 13 percent of the nation’s meters are customers of electric co-ops
- Co-ops deliver 11 percent of the total kilowatt‑hours sold in the U.S. each year
- Co-ops generate nearly 5 percent of the total electricity produced in the U.S. each year
- Co-ops own and maintain 2.6 million miles, or 42 percent, of the nation’s electric distribution lines, covering three quarters of the nation’s landmass
- Co-ops serve an average of 7.4 consumers per mile of line and collect annual revenue of approximately $16,000 per mile of line as compared to investor‑owned utilities, which have on average 34 customers per mile of line and collect $75,500 per mile, and publicly-owned utilities, or municipals, which average 48 consumers and collect $113,000 per mile
The Cooperative Advantage
Co-op consumer-members own each co-op’s assets. Cooperatives retire more than $1 billion in capital credits annually.
Cooperatives also pay over $1 billion in state and local taxes.
In 38 of the 47 states in which electric cooperatives operate, statewide associations provide a unified voice that speaks to the general public, regulatory bodies and state legislatures on behalf of their members. These associations are voluntarily supported, governed by representatives of the member cooperatives and offer commonly desired services. Thirty-two statewide associations publish newspapers or magazines for the co-op consumer-owners, reaching more than eight million readers each month.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) represents the national interests of cooperative electric utilities. NRECA provides legislative, legal and regulatory representation; medical insurance and financial services; education and training programs; business consulting; a weekly newspaper and a monthly magazine. NRECA and its member cooperatives also support energy and environmental research and administer a program of technical advice and assistance in developing countries around the world.
Electric Utility Comparisons
(2014 EIA data or latest)
|Total Revenue (billions)||$284||$60||$45||$389|
|Number of Organizations||200||2,000||900||3,100|
|Number of Customers||107 m||22 m||19 m||148 m|
|Size (median number of customers)||400,000||2,000||13,000|
|General Market Share
Percent of total
|Sales (billion kilowatt hours)*||Investor-Owned||Publicly Owned||Co‑ops||Total|
*Federal sales are not shown
|Miles of Distribution Line||50%||7%||42%||100%|
|Customers per mile of line (density)||34||48||7.4|
|Revenue per mile of line||$75,500||$113,000||$16,000|
|Distribution Plant per Customer||$2,798||$2,740*||$3,290|
*Publicly Owned data is not available; these are estimates based on past growth
Energy Information Administration (EIA) Electric Sales, Revenue, and Price 2014 or latest.
“Total retail revenues in 2015 were $391 billion” (Electric Power Annual Table 1.1. Total Electric Power Industry Summary Statistics, 2015)
Industry revenue, sales and customer data is from EIA Form 861 2014 data or later.
Investor-owned statistics includes IOU affiliates engaged in competitive retail markets; sales from federally owned utilities not shown
NRECA has 834 electric distribution system members and 69 G&T (Generation & Transmission) systems; the distribution members include a small number of rural public power districts and mutual utilities.
Density and distribution plant per customer data for IOU and Public Sector is 2009.
Co-op financial data is from the 2015 RUS Form 7 (and CFC Form 7, if available).
EIA: Energy Information Administration (a part of DOE), Washington, DC.
RUS: Rural Utilities Service (a part of USDA), Washington, DC.
CFC: Cooperative Finance Corporation, Herndon, VA.