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Clean Energy Transition from the Ground Up: How Rural Electric Co-ops Can Lead

By June 19, 2019Uncategorized

CVNM Education Fund’s Northern New Mexico campaign is supporting member engagement in one of our nation’s most grassroots democratic institutions – the rural electric cooperative. These are member-owned cooperatives initiated during Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal to address the needs of nearly 90 percent of rural households without electricity. The upcoming election provides the member-owners an opportunity to elect a new board that stands for their values. Together we can ensure the path to a vibrant clean energy economy with new local jobs.

To understand the larger context and potential, rural electric cooperatives (RECs) today provide electricity to close to 42 million Americans. There are over 900 rural electric cooperatives, spanning 47 states —all owned and operated by their members. They serve 93% of the country’s “persistent poverty counties,” 85% of which lie in non-metropolitan areas (1).  It’s been noted that RECs have the ability to transform a sizable chunk of America’s energy sector—one of the highest-polluting parts of our economy. Reforming them could bring energy democracy and fight climate change in the process. (1)

The ‘radical potential’ of electric cooperatives is underlined by the fact that the United States has no national strategy to transition from fossil fuels to clean energy, like solar and wind power. At the same time, the clean energy revolution is currently dominated by the coastal metropolitan areas like California and New York. Rural electric co-ops can expand clean energy access to a wider, more equitable spread of our population. As democratic entities, the member-owners have a powerful voice in their co-op operations, as well as their transformation. Importantly, this transition of RECs power into renewables will not only conserve vital environmental resources (water, air, land), but also takes advantage of lower market prices, leading to lower energy bills. (1)

Founded in 1947, the member-owned Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative (JMEC) began as a small hydropower generating station in Jemez Springs. Today, JMEC is the largest electric cooperative in the state, serving consumers in five counties – Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, San Juan, McKinley and Sandoval. Like most electric co-ops, Jemez power supply is rooted in coal and fossil fuels despite the fact that solar and wind power have now overtaken the market – far out pricing and out performing fossil fuels. According to a new report by Energy Innovation, America has officially entered the “coal cost crossover,” with new wind and solar resources coming in 74% cheaper than existing coal. The need to transition from coal and fossil fuels to clean energy has become both an economic and environmental imperative.

This election presents a tremendous opportunity to inform the next generation of co-op leadership, as well as advance the co-op’s role as a driver of local economic growth and clean energy. CVNM Education Fund is engaging co-op member owners through voter education and outreach. Our campaign is sending information directly to voters in the mail, airing radio ads, running social media ads and other awareness-raising activities to help inform and get out the vote.

Election Dates & Locations:

  • June 21: District 4 runs from Rinconada, the west side of highway 68 all the way to Hernandez and Chili
    • Polling location: Jemez Mountain Co-op main office in Hernandez
  • June 24: District 5 runs east of highway 68 covering Dixon to Alcalde
    • Polling location: Española Valley High
  • June 26: District 6 runs from San Ildefonso Pueblo to El Valle de Arroyo Sec to the Santa Fe Ski area
    • Polling location: Old Pojoaque High School

Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 



1 – Bringing Power to the People: The Unlikely Case for Utility Populism, Kate Aronoff, Dissent Magazine, Summer 2017