Over the past several months, Switch Energy Alliance’s Chairman, Dr. Scott Tinker, spoke to a number of state electric cooperative associations, including Oregon, Pennsylvania, Mississippi, Oklahoma, and Florida. Electric co-ops are little known but big players in the U.S. energy story. They are private, independent electric utilities, owned by the members they serve. Electric cooperatives were created after President Franklin D. Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration in 1935. There are now more than 900 electric co-ops in the U.S., bringing electricity to some 42 million people (about 1 in 8 Americans) and in supporting over 600,000 jobs.
In most cases these cooperatives rely on a combination of state and national associations to assist with their missions. Statewide associations provide legislative, legal, communications, and educational services to the individual co-ops in their respective states. On a national level, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) helps ensure electric co-ops' long-term success in a number of ways, including amplifying the voice of cooperatives and their consumer-members in Washington, D.C.; working with elected officials to keep electricity safe, reliable and affordable; and helping the employees of electric cooperatives learn and grow professionally.
The public perception of the energy landscape is providing challenges to U.S. electric cooperatives, just as it is to large privately-owned utility companies. During his talks to state electric cooperative associations, Dr. Tinker provided an overview of the global energy scene. He noted that although wind and solar are growing rapidly, they still represent only a small component of the total power fuel mix because of continued growing demand for electricity. The U.S. and global energy mix will transition slowly due to a number of factors, including the scale of electricity demand, electricity storage limitations, infrastructure costs, and the intermittency of solar and wind, requiring backup and increasing full system costs. Dr. Tinker noted that a truly sustainable energy transition will address global energy poverty and minimize the environmental impacts of all forms of energy on land, air, water and the atmosphere.
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