Of the 353 “persistent poverty counties” in the United States, electric cooperatives serve 327 of them. This means that many co-op members are pinching every penny, and at times have to make the difficult choice between heating and eating. Especially in cold climates, where keeping the heat on is a matter of life and death many are caught in “energy poverty.”
Low income member owners have the most to gain from energy efficiency in monthly savings, but the high upfront costs prevent them from doing so. This gives electric co-ops an important role in addressing economic inequality in their communities. Many co-ops around the country have developed financing programs to give better access to low income member owners to help them out of energy poverty and to save energy.
The National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA)’s assessment of their member’s financing programs gives us a window into some successful and unsuccessful models of financing. We hope that co-ops across Minnesota and the nation will consider taking inspiration from their colleagues with successful financing programs.