As summer comes to a close, so does another season of annual meetings convened by electric cooperatives (“electric co-ops”) in the Commonwealth and renewed calls for reform to electric co-op governance, including board election procedures.
Virginia has 13 private, not-for-profit cooperatives that provide electricity to about one-third of the state. Each co-op has a specific service area defined by the State Corporation Commission (“SCC” or the “Commission”) where they enjoy a monopoly to provide electricity to their designated territory. The distinguishing factor of electric co-ops is that they are owned by their customers (member-owned), in contrast to municipal utilities that are owned by cities or for-profit utilities owned by investors. As such, electric co-ops are supposed to be democratically governed.
During the co-ops’ annual summer meetings, member-owners may vote in board of director elections. However, as in past years, co-op board election procedures resulted in what some are calling unfair elections. As Seth Heald recently highlighted in a piece published in the Virginia Mercury, “[u]nfortunately fair elections do not always happen at some Virginia co-ops” and reform is needed in the Commonwealth to ensure that members maintain control over co-op board governance. For example, during Rappahannock Electric Cooperative’s August 11, 2021 board elections, one candidate received twice as many member-owner votes as any of the four other candidates, yet using proxy-voting, the board allocated nearly 6,000 votes to a different candidate, thus “swinging the election win to him”.
In addition to board election procedures, member-owners have also recently criticized the positions that electric co-op boards have taken in lobbying against certain provisions in the 2020 Virginia Clean Economy Act. Those members argue that the positions the co-op took in public-facing letters to the Governor and legislature did not reflect the interests of their member-owners and the co-ops did not transparently convey the positions before announcing them.
In light of these shortcomings enabled by little oversight of Virginia electric co-ops in the Commonwealth, advocates have renewed their calls to the General Assembly to enact laws to ensure fair board-election procedures and reform to co-ops’ lobbying efforts. Only time will tell whether the legislature will answer these calls.
 The thirteen co-ops are: A&N Electric Cooperative, B-A-R-C Electric Cooperative, Central Virginia Electric Cooperative, Community Electric Cooperative, Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative, Northern Neck Electric Cooperative, Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative, Prince George Electric Cooperative, Rappahannock Electric Cooperative, Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative, Southside Electric Cooperative, and Powell Valley Electric Cooperative.
 See Seth Heald, Reforms Needed at Virginia Electric Co-Ops, Virginia Mercury (Sept. 3, 2021), https://www.virginiamercury.com/2021/09/03/reforms-needed-at-virginia-electric-co-ops/.
 Mike Murphy and Kathy Freise, Do Electric Co-Ops Speak for Their Members? Not Us., Virginia Mercury (May 12, 2020), https://www.virginiamercury.com/2020/05/12/do-electric-co-ops-speak-for-their-members-not-us/.