Washington Electric Co-op (WEC)’s member newsletter, Co-op Currents, will carry a banner to celebrate the Int’l Year of the Co-op, throughout the year and will have features about other co-ops or the co-op movement.
“Co-ops are very important”, said Avram Patt, General Manager for Washington Electric Co-op. There are over 900 electric co-ops nationally, that serve about 10% of the population, but over half the land mass of the country! WEC actively participates in the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association and in our northeast regional organization. WEC works to influence NRECA policy through the democratic process and by example. Electric co-ops are deeply committed to the cooperative business model and to consumer interests and commitments WEC shares.
With their offices located in E. Montpelier, as consumer-owned and democratically governed electric utility, WEC serves communities in Washington, Orange and Caledonia Counties of Vermont. In addition to building and maintaining their system, they generate or purchase power supply, advise members on their energy use and efficiency, safety, and on net metering renewable energy at their homes or businesses. Educating Co-op members is a very important function as a cooperative. As a regulated utility, WEC serves everyone in their territory whether they are members or not. Non-members cannot vote and cannot receive capital credit (patronage) refunds.
In 1939, during FDR’s New Deal era, the Rural Electrification Administration fostered a grassroots movement to bring power to rural areas that were not being served by investor-owned utilities. About 200 pioneers from E. Montpelier and Calais founded WEC, suppling electricity from two diesel generators in what is now their office building. Because the need was so great, WEC expanded quickly during the 1940s and early 1950s to serve the hills and back roads of 41 towns, and now with over 10,500 WEC members.
As an electric utility, membership is based on meters or location, rather than by individual. The member is the owner or occupant of a location that the Co-op serves. In 2002, with the expiration of WEC’s long-term contract with Vermont Yankee, WEC, proudly committed to meeting its future energy needs from clean and renewable sources to the greatest extent possible, interested in developing or purchasing power from local Vermont sources. In 2005, WEC inaugurated its landfill gas generating plant at Vermont’s largest landfill in Coventry, expanded the plant twice, and it now generates 2/3 of all the electricity our members use. WEC was an early supporter and subscriber to First Wind’s project in Sheffield, and began taking part of that project’s power when it began generating in October. Our other sources of power are our own hydro plant at the Wrightsville Dam, other small Vermont hydro and biomass plants, and large hydro from New York and Hydro Quebec.
“In coming years, we will see a real shift away from liquid fossil fuels towards electricity, especially for transportation”, said Patt. “With added electricity needs to charge upcoming electric vehicles, we are going to need significant new renewable resources. WEC members and all Vermonters are going to need to accept and look at some generation projects in our landscape if these changes are to have real impact.”
To strengthen the cooperative society, public education about the cooperative alternative is essential. People need to seek out existing co-ops, or to take on the challenge of pioneering new ones.
We are proud to operate according to the seven Cooperative Principles boasts Mr. Patts: www.washingtonelectric.coop