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What's A Cooperative?

You're an Owner!

The Electric Cooperative Story 
A video produced by the National Rural Electric Administration

When you get your power or other services from Bowie-Cass Electric Co-operative, you're more than a customer; you're an owner. That's because BCEC is a non-profit, member-owned cooperative. Co-ops are owned by the people they serve, not shareholders. As a co-op member, you have a voice and a vote.

A co-op is founded when people with similar needs form an organization to provide goods or services.

You are a member and co-owner of this nonprofit organization. This gives you certain rights that are quite different than if you were a customer of a for-profit utility owned by shareholders. In addition to having a say in how the company is operated, you will gain a share of the ownership as you use our services. A cooperative's net margin above expenses and reserves does not belong to the utility but to the individual member-owners of Bowie-Cass. The margins must either be used to improve or maintain operations or be distributed to BCEC's member-owners. Indeed, this is one of the significant aspects of a cooperative that make it truly unique.

According to the National Cooperative Business Association (NCBA), over 120 million people -- two of every five people -- are members of 48,000 U.S. cooperatives, and worldwide, some 750,000 cooperatives serve 730 million members.

You might be familiar with well-known national cooperatives, such as Welch's, Land O'Lakes, Ocean Spray, Sunkist, Publix Supermarkets, ACE Hardware, Nationwide Insurance, and the Associated Press.

In our electric cooperative industry, nearly 1,000 rural electric co-ops own and maintain nearly half of the electric distribution lines in the U. S., cover 75 percent of the land mass, and provide electricity to 36 million people.

Here in Texas, 75 electric co-ops serve more than 3,000,000 member-owners. Texas co-ops own over 260,000 miles of lines serving over 1.2 million meters in 231 of the state's 254 counties. 

Cooperative Principles

Voluntary and Open Membership

Cooperatives are voluntary organizations open to all persons able to use their services and willing to accept the responsibilities of membership without gender, social, racial, political, or religious discrimination.

Democratic Member Control

Cooperatives are democratic organizations controlled by their members, who actively participate in setting policies and making decisions. The elected representatives are accountable to the membership. In primary cooperatives, members have equal voting rights (one member, one vote), and cooperatives at other levels are organized in a democratic manner.

Members’ Economic Participation

Members contribute equitably to and democratically control the capital of their cooperative. At least part of that capital is usually the common property of the cooperative. Members usually receive limited compensation, if any, on capital subscribed as a condition of membership. Members allocate surpluses for any or all of the following purposes: developing the cooperative, possibly by setting up reserves, part of which at least would be indivisible; benefiting members in proportion to their transactions with the cooperative; and supporting other activities approved by the membership.

Autonomy and Independence

Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

Education, Training, and Information

Cooperatives provide education and training for their members, elected representatives, managers, and employees so they can contribute effectively to the development of their cooperatives. They inform the general public, particularly young people and opinion leaders, about the nature and benefits of cooperation.

Cooperation Among Cooperatives

Cooperatives serve their members most effectively and strengthen the cooperative movement by working together through local, national, regional, and international structures.

Concern for Community

While focusing on member needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their members.

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