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Fourth Cooperative Principle: Autonomy and Independence

By Anna Politano T

he cooperative business model is built on the foundation of autonomy and independence. Because a member- elected board governs the cooperative, the decisions made by the board directly benefi t the membership.

In Oklahoma, 28 distribution electric co-

operatives—serving in the state’s 77 coun- ties—strive to provide affordable and reliable electricity to their nearly 500,000 member- consumers. But these cooperatives are not only utility providers, they consider the needs of their communities and offer diverse services and programs to meet those needs. In order to look after their membership’s best interest, cooperatives may enter into agreements with

Editor’s Note: This is the fourth story in a series highlighting the Seven Cooperative Principles as a celebration of the International Year of Cooperatives.

Cooperatives are autonomous, self-help organizations controlled by their members. If they enter into agreements with other organizations, including governments, or raise capital from external sources, they do so on terms that ensure democratic control by their members and maintain their cooperative autonomy.

Little Dixie Headstart class from Haworth, Okla., takes part in a Choctaw Electric Cooperative offi ce tour in Idabel. The tours educate kids on electricity safety, how electricity gets to a home and how an electric cooperative works. Photo courtesy of CEC

other organizations. Services, programs and agreements may vary from co-op to co-op. Below are a few examples of unique services and agreements some Oklahoma co-ops have initiated.

Cookson Hills Electric Cooperative

Cookson Hills Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Stigler, Okla., has pio- neered a Pole Attachment agreement policy that began in 2000 after the co-op’s service territory was hit by a major ice storm.

According to Manager Kendall Beck, nearly 70 percent of the poles that went down had foreign pole attachments from either cable, wireless or telephone companies. Up to that point, Beck said most of the attachments were put on the co-op’s poles without an agreement. Upon taking an inventory of all for- eign pole attachments found on the co-op’s poles, the Board gave the seal of approval for the management at Cookson Hills to develop a Pole Attachment Agreement. In addition, Cookson Hills worked with a GIS mapping software to record the exact longitude and latitude of every foreign attachment found on a co-op pole. “Many of the companies would not anchor their cables properly to our poles. We started making these pole attachment agreements and developing contracts between our co-op and the other companies,” Beck said. “This agreement has allowed us to protect the integrity of our poles and prevent them from being overburdened when disaster strikes.”

Beck said the pole attachment agreements abide by the National Electric

Safety Code. This code establishes safety standards and guidelines when at- taching a cable to a pole.

“These companies (cable, telephone, wireless) partner with us to provide vi- tal services to rural areas,” Beck said. “Our members own these poles and we strive to maintain the integrity of our poles, so that they can better withstand storms.”

Following Cookson Hills’ introduction of a pole attachment agreement, other local electric cooperatives have followed suit. To fi nd out more about the services Cookson Hills Electric provides, visit their website at

Cimarron Electric Cooperative

Members of Cimarron Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Kingfi sher, Okla., benefi t from the co-op’s subsidiary business, CEC Services, which offers security systems, electrical wiring and heating and air conditioning systems.


Manager Mark Snowden said CEC Services came about in 1994 after a survey that was con- ducted among the membership to fi nd out what needs the co-op could meet beyond the meter. According to Snowden, CEC Services does not exist to make any profi t, but to serve the membership with valuable services. Hundreds of Cimarron’s members are using the services provided by CEC Services to improve their homes and businesses. Members who use these services, like a monitored security system, pay an up-front fee to get the service started and then are billed monthly on their electric bill for the cost of the service they are using. “We bring affordable electricity fi rst, but we

are constantly looking for other opportunities to serve our members,” Snowden said. “It makes us proud to serve: to cool a home in the summer, to heat a home in the winter, to help wire a barn,

to bring peace of mind to a family with a security system—we exist to serve. It’s all worth it at the end of the day.” To fi nd out more about Cimarron’s security services, visit http://www.cimar- To see other services offered by Cimarron Electric Coopera- tive, visit

Choctaw Electric Cooperative

Choctaw Electric Cooperative, headquartered in Hugo, Okla., offers a wide array of services to its membership, including: storm shelters, Internet services, energy effi ciency loans, appliance loans, energy audits, safety classes at school, Kid’s Camp, Fire Department safety classes, AARP classes, CPR classes and more.

“We are always looking for new ways to serve our members,” said Choctaw Electric Manager Terry Matlock. “We look at the needs and speak to our board of directors to see what is feasible for us to provide. Our principle is: if these services are available in a metro area, we think our member-consumers deserve the same right to life like others have in urban areas.”

Choctaw Electric has been instrumental in bringing Internet services to its

service territory. In 2003, Choctaw Electric received a government grant to staff three community centers with computers where members could come to access the Internet. The fi rst community center was opened in 2007. The goal was to introduce this vital service to members and let them learn what it could do for them. By partnering with a local Internet provider, Choctaw Electric is now able to offer Internet services in members’ homes. One community center site has already closed down because members are shifting from going to the center to having this commodity at home.

“It’s all about being part of a family, being a good neighbor,” Matlock said. “At Choctaw Electric we have a board of trustees that understands the co-op business model and the varied needs of our membership because they are mem- bers, too. That ensures that every member is fairly represented and their diverse needs are carefully considered when decisions are made.” To fi nd out more about the services Choctaw Electric offers to its members, visit Contact YOUR co-op to fi nd out what services and programs they offer to

benefi t you and your community. Visit the Oklahoma Association of Electric Cooperative’s website at to fi nd your co-op’s contact information. OL

Photo couresty Karen Kaley/Cotton Electric Co-op

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