Lessons from Electric Cooperatives: Evolving Participatory Governance Practices

Stephanie Lenhart, Boise State University


Cooperatives are often viewed as an organizational form with the potential to promote more decentralized, sustainable, and just societies. The energy democracy movement connects the renewable energy transition to a redistribution of political and economic power, and cooperatives are mechanisms that can reclaim energy decision-making to prioritize the public interest. Founded on well-established ideals and principles, cooperative institutions provide a model for pluralistic governance. Electric cooperatives were first formed in the early 20th century to provide an essential service to a community as a whole, rather than a specific group of users. In recent decades, electric cooperatives have emerged as prominent sites of experimentation in energy democracy. Yet, the ability for cooperateives to further the ideals of energy democracy varies across local contexts and a diversity of nested institutional relationships.