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First Cooperative Principle: 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.


By Anna Politano


ost Oklahoma Living readers are members of an electric cooperateive in Oklahoma. But, what is a cooperative? According to the National Rural Electric Cooperative Associa- tion, a cooperative has been defi ned as “a demo- cratic association of persons organized to furnish themselves an economic service under a plan that eliminates entrepreneur profi t and that provides for substantial equality in ownership and con- trol.”


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Consumer-members of an electric cooperative are also member-owners of the cooperative. This mem- bership comes with numerous privileges, but it also comes with responsibilities such as the commit- ment to pay the bill after energy has been used and to maintain access to meters and other equipment. Member-owners are also charged with the respon- sibility to attend the local co-op annual meeting in order to participate in the business of the coopera- tive and to vote.


It is fast and simple to become a member of an electric cooperative in Oklahoma.


The state’s largest electric cooperative, Oklahoma Electric Cooperative (OEC), based in Norman cur- rently has 38,450 members and 49,419 accounts. OEC owns and maintains 49,419 meters on 5,318 miles of line in central Oklahoma. There are two quick steps to becoming a member of OEC: pay a one-time $5 membership fee and fi ll out an appli- cation.


According to Chief Financial Offi cer Charles Bar- ton, the $5 membership fee has been the same for 75 years—since OEC’s incorporation in 1937. Barton said there are two different scenarios in which an individual or family could become a mem-


ber. If a family, individual or business is building in a new location, or moving a trailer to an area where there is no electric service, OEC will view the location and review what it takes to provide electric power to that area. The second scenario would be if an individual, family, or business is re-locating to an apartment, house or building that already has an OEC meter installed. In these situations, it can take as little as fi ve minutes for the new member to receive power.


“Electric cooperatives allow people to live in rural areas with the same quality of life and conveniences others have in metro areas,” Barton said. Barton, who has been with OEC for 35 years, says he is proud to be part of a company that is in the business of helping people.


“I enjoy being a part of Operation Round Up and working with quality employees on a daily basis,” Barton said. “Every day we go out and try to help our members to keep the lights on and take care of business.”


Otto Hansmeyer has been a member of OEC since 1941. Hansmeyer still lives on the farm where he was raised in Cleveland County. He remembers how get- ting electricity for the fi rst time changed his life. “It was darkness going into light,” Hansmeyer said. “Without electricity we had no refrigerators or running water. I’m thankful for OEC. I’ve watched them all along—how they operate and keep the lines and poles in good shape.” From the largest to the smallest, electric coopera- tives across the state share the same sense of fulfi ll- ment: that of helping their members. Harmon Electric Association, the state’s small- est cooperative, is located in Hollis. Harmon serves 1,600 members on 1,896 miles of line and owns and maintains 3,400 meters.


The same two-step process applies for member- ship at Harmon: pay the one-time $5 membership fee and fi ll out an application.


“Having an open membership is part of the demo- cratic process of being a member and having a voice through voting. In a cooperative, members are treat- ed differently than customers, and I’m proud to be part of a program that makes such an impact in the community,” Harmon Electric General Manager Charles Paxton said. “If it were not for electric co- operatives, many rural areas would not have power. We are going where investor-owned utilities would not go.”


The Quartz Mountain Arts & Conference Center


and Nature Park located in Lone Wolf has been in the Harmon Electric service territory since the 1955. Executive Director Dr. Terry Mosley said he appre- ciates the relationship the Park has developed with Harmon Electric Association.


“Harmon Electric is working with us and look- ing out for us in the long term. It gives us an ad- vantage that our utility company is a partner, and not someone that just sends us a bill,” Dr. Mosley said. “Harmon Electric is always willing to look at ways to improve the dependability of the service and to manage costs. They’re relocating a generator for the lodge and helping us manage peak demand. It supports the fact that local electric cooperatives are local, part of the community, and they are here to serve.” OL


Editor’s Note: In celebration of the Interna- tional Year of Cooperatives, Oklahoma Living is publishing a series on the seven cooperative principles, which are the foundation of the co- operative business model. Established in 1844 by the Rochdale Society of Equitable Pioneers in England, the “Rochdale” principles have guid- ed cooperatives around the globe to better serve their communities. Here in our “backyard”— Oklahoma—the electric cooperative that serves you prides itself in applying these principles to its daily operations. Bringing these principles to life—performing them rather than talking about them—is what makes the rural electric cooperatives of Oklahoma an asset to the com- munities they serve. After all, at the end of the day, we can all say we are neighbors helping


Members of Oklahoma Electric gather at the cooperative’s 74th annual meeting in 2011. Attending a cooperative’s an- nual meeting is one of the responsibilties of a member-owner. Photo courtesy/OEC


neighbors. FEBRUARY 2012 5


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