By Kent Singer, CREA Executive Director
One of the great perks of working for Colorado’s electric co-ops is the opportunity to get to know the fine people who serve as directors on the local electric co-op boards for our 22 member co-ops throughout the state.
Under the cooperative business model, electric co-ops are governed by their locally elected board of directors who are also member-owners of the co-ops. This means that every member of the co-op is eligible to run for the board of directors and have a say in the operation and policies of the co-op. It also means that every co-op member-owner is represented by friends and neighbors who are also personally affected by every decision made in the boardroom.
Colorado’s electric co-op directors come from all walks of life. While there are many farmers and ranchers on co-op boards, there are also accountants, lawyers, store owners, photographers, bankers, energy efficiency experts, builders, retired military and about every other occupation and background you can imagine. There is no specific expertise required to run for your co-op’s board, but once elected co-op directors are expected to become well-versed in issues impacting the co-op and the electric industry and to do what’s in the best interest of the co-op and its member-owners.
Co-op directors spend many hours each month in board meetings, committee meetings, strategic planning sessions and, in some cases, serving on the boards of affiliated organizations (such as the Colorado Rural Electric Association). If they are paid at all for this work, it is usually only a small per diem and reimbursement of their expenses, so they are not doing this work for the money. They are doing it out of a sense of responsibility to their family and neighbors to make sure that the local co-op keeps the lights on and serves the needs of their communities.
While most directors have full-time jobs, their position on the co-op board means they are also responsible for high-level oversight of their co-op’s management as it operates a multimillion dollar electric utility. At a typical board meeting, an electric co-op director is expected to provide direction to the general manager and the staff of the co-op on a wide range of issues. These can include budgets, staffing, facilities management, vendor contracts and power supply, just to name a few. Directors must have knowledge of all of these issues in order to effectively discharge their fiduciary responsibility to the co-op and its member-owners. This is where CREA fits in.
CREA sponsors a series of educational seminars throughout each year that equip co-op directors with the skills and knowledge they need to do their jobs. Co-op directors are encouraged to achieve Credentialed Cooperative Director (CCD) status by taking certain courses and passing tests to demonstrate their proficiency and knowledge on a variety of topics. They are then encouraged to obtain their Board Leadership Certificate (BLC) by demonstrating additional proficiency in leadership skills and industry issues. Starting in January, directors can continue their education through a Director Gold program that keeps their knowledge of industry issues current.
Colorado co-ops place a high value on director training and compare favorably to other states in terms of the percentage of directors who achieve CCD and BLC status.
In this rapidly evolving energy world, the demands on electric co-op directors are greater than ever. In addition to the usual corporate decisions involving budgets and operations, directors must understand such subjects as distributed generation, demand-side management, automated metering and cyber-security. And today, much of what was the “norm” is changing as co-ops get more involved in local renewable energy resources and other distributed generation projects, such as rooftop solar. Directors must grapple with how to navigate fundamental changes in how the utility does business while finding solutions that are fair to all of the co-op’s member-owners. It’s not an easy job.
So, if you happen to see one of your co-op board directors in the community, you might tell him or her that you appreciate the time invested on behalf of you and your neighbors. The fact that we have dependable electricity throughout rural Colorado is a tribute to not only the linemen and staff at the co-ops, but also to the men and women who make decisions in boardrooms across the state. Once in awhile, they deserve some thanks and a pat on the back