At Horry Electric Cooperative, we’re not alone in our mission to deliver a safe, reliable, and affordable supply of power to rural residents. There are 19 other electric distribution cooperatives like us in South Carolina and more than 850 nationwide. Despite our obvious similarities, each co-op is different—first and foremost because the areas we serve are unique.
Each co-op boasts its own history and serves a distinctive mix of residential, industrial, commercial, and agricultural members. All make their own business decisions independently, as described in the Fourth Cooperative Principle, “Autonomy and Independence.” It’s one of seven unique guidelines that govern cooperative operations.
Electric cooperatives are generally subject to less oversight by federal and state utility regulators because of the healthy way in which you, our members, regulate us. This independence, enshrined in the laws of most states, rests on our historic commitment to the communities we serve.
Remaining autonomous and independent allows us to best serve the needs of you, our member/owners. That’s because what might be a sound decision for one co-op, say, with a relatively small number of members spread out over an extremely rural area, might not work for another that has a larger number of members in a more urban setting. Local service and attention to your unique needs explains why having local control is best for each locally owned and governed electric co-op.
Although Horry Electric and its members sail our own ship, so to speak, we are not sailing alone. Our co-op belongs to a statewide association, The Electric Cooperatives of South Carolina and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the Arlington, Va.-based national service organization representing more than 900 consumer-owned, not-for-profit electric cooperatives, public power districts, and public utility districts in the United States. We’re also a member of Touchstone Energy® Cooperatives, an alliance of more than 700 electric cooperatives nationwide.
These umbrella groups provide support and products like South Carolina Living magazine and valuable safety courses for our employees. Touchstone Energy gives us access to online energy audits and energy efficiency marketing campaigns. Our statewide association and NRECA advocate for us with lawmakers in Columbia and Washington, D.C., keeping these public officials aware of how their votes can impact our electric bills.
Despite these benefits, none of these groups tells us what to do. Decisions about how to deliver your electricity at the lowest possible cost are left to our employees and to our board of trustees, who are elected by you, our members.
On occasion, we might need a large amount of capital to pay for expansion. We can borrow it from a number of sources including the federal Rural Utilities Service; CoBank, a cooperative bank that’s part of the Farm Credit System which offers financial services for agribusinesses and rural water, electric, and telecommunications co-ops; or the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation, a private market lender that’s organized and controlled by electric cooperatives. Of course, while we enter into any agreement—whether it’s regarding financing or to buy materials or contracting with a company to perform line work for us—with a great deal of deliberation, no deal gives a third-party control over our operations.
Leaders of our co-op, who are also members just like you, know this area and its needs well. Our ability to make our own decisions allows us to serve you in the most efficient way possible. And that’s the way it should be.
That’s the cooperative difference.
NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of articles about The Cooperative Difference, which highlights the seven guiding principles of cooperatively owned and operated businesses