Rural Electricity Co-ops Lack Diversity

NEW ORLEANS - May 26, 2022 - PRLog -- Eighty-one years after U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal provided federal loans and grants for rural membership cooperatives to connect the "last mile" and bring electricity to almost all rural America, 800 co-ops deliver electricity to some forty-two million Americans.

Unlike other electric providers, residential customers use 57% of cooperatives' power.

Rural electric cooperatives in many areas are often a significant economic presence and employers with assets and sales throughout the South of billions of dollars annually.

The membership (customer-owners) is supposed to be democratically represented on co-op boards. However, "Cooperative Board Diversity is a Failure in the South," ( a new report, concludes that co-op boards are overwhelmingly white despite demographics in service areas, even when the majority is Black or Hispanic.

The report follows "The Crisis in Rural Electric Cooperatives in The South,"  an investigation of rural co-op boards in 12 southern states conducted by Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center and ACORN International five years ago in 2016. This report measures what progress was made or, in this case, not made in that period. In many cases, the report found that co-op boards made an effort in their public communications to hide the lack of diversity in their governance.

Wade Rathke, Chief Organizer of ACORN International, noted that "Rural electric cooperatives are touted as one of the great icons of New Deal democracy, but it appears now that they have become entrenched 'old boy clubs' in too much of the South, out of synch with their communities, the members, and the urgent climate issues of our time."

"There is too much evidence of democracy lost and discrimination found. Transparency is rare, and too many rules and procedures maintain a status quo that seems more frozen in the fifties before the civil rights and women's rights movements," investigators concluded in 2016.

The new report finds that the population is 56% white in the 12-state region. Meanwhile, whites make up 93.1% of the boards of these states' electricity co-ops. Co-op governance has been an issue in Louisiana, North Carolina, and Texas, among other southern states, in recent years.

Rural Co-op Boards lacking diversity and transparency seem to engage in a pattern of discrimination that leaves Blacks and other people of color without an opportunity to address changes to energy sources, board elections, hiring, and procurement matters. Many in marginalized communities also remain uninformed about how the relationship between electric cooperatives and members works.

Access the full report here:
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Wade Rathke
Location:New Orleans - Louisiana - United States
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