Democratic member control is profound.
Whether it’s to each other, to our families or to our work, the accountability that results from the cooperative principle of “one member, one vote” demands a level of respect and understanding for one another and a commitment to the greater good that benefits everyone.
Accountability to the overall membership is one of the biggest reasons electric cooperatives in South Carolina have flourished for 75 years. As democratic organizations controlled by members, our co-ops are driven by the good of the whole to adopt policies and procedures that reflect the will of the majority.
I like to think of this as “enlightened accountability,” because members must understand the importance of the success of the cooperative as a whole if the organization is to thrive. Not only should the cooperative be accountable to members, but members should be accountable to each other.
Within the first decade of rural electrification across South Carolina, economic development came knocking on the door in the form of industry looking to interconnect with farms, schools and churches already served by cooperatives. As large industries were added to their lines, cooperatives stuck to the principle of “one member, one vote.” The largest industrial customer was entitled to no more and no less than the voting representation of the smallest residential user.
What communities and businesses discovered was that enlightened democracy works. Residential members—aware that large industrial members improved overall system efficiency, created jobs and generated tax revenue—were careful not to overburden commercial and industrial members with a disproportionate share of costs.
Industry continues to knock on cooperative doors. While traditional economic incentives are sometimes offered to lure businesses to co-op-served areas, the principle of democratic member control is never on the negotiating table. The new Volvo manufacturing plant in Berkeley County, served by Edisto Electric Cooperative, is the latest example. As a new member of the co-op, the giant industrial facility is counted as one member and gets exactly one vote; however, the entire Edisto Electric membership is keenly aware that the new plant is a game changer for their area—a development not to be handled or treated lightly.
As S.C. electric cooperatives look forward to the next 75 years of serving all members equitably, the principle of democratic member control remains strong, and it will guide us as we tackle the tough issues related to residential solar and other forms of distributed energy generation. Only a very small percentage of co-op members currently have solar panels on their homes, and yet our co-ops are active in getting ahead of that trend to make it work for the benefit of all members—today, and in the future.
Enlightened accountability means making the system work for everyone, and we test drive this principle every day by researching and developing new and emerging energy technologies and by honoring the democratic structure that has served us so well for so long.
The Seven Cooperative Principles
1. Voluntary and open membership
2. Democratic member control
3. Members’ economic participation
4. Autonomy and independence
5. Education, training and information
6. Cooperation among cooperatives
7. Concern for community