Sunday, September 07, 2008

Electric co-op's members keep fighting managers

Because suburbs have expanded into the territories rural electric cooperatives established before World War II, many co-ops now serve primarily suburban customers. But they are still governed as cooperatives, and sometimes members revolt against management, as those of Cobb Electric Membership Corp. north of Atlanta did at its annual membership meeting Thursday night, attended by more than 850.

After the usual "balloons, hot dogs and a cheerful teenage chorus . . . the mood quickly turned as angry Cobb EMC members demanded the board’s ouster and called on the utility’s executives and officers to sever all financial ties with for-profit operating affiliate Cobb Energy, wrote Margaret Newkirk and Jeremy Redmon of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "To loud cheers, Cobb EMC members also passed a motion reversing a recent board decision allowing Cobb Energy to collect an 11 percent markup for operating the nonprofit cooperative."

It was the latest skirmish in a war: "The actions were the most public display yet in a year-long battle between co-op executives and members that has mostly been fought in court. The central issue has been whether Cobb Energy has siphoned co-op assets," the reporters wrote. "A judge in that case barred the co-op from holding planned board of director elections at Thursday’s meeting, but allowed the meeting to go forward. . . . Co-op supporters spoke, too, praising Cobb EMC’s service, technology and response to customers in storms." (Read more)

The latter point can be crucial; when a Louisiana electric co-op was slow to fix storm damage a few years ago, members disbanded it and sold out to an investor-owned electric company.

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