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A Growth Spurt for Electric Co-ops

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By Steven Johnson | ECT Staff Writer Published: February 12th, 2015

The electric cooperative network might be 80 years old, but it’s in the middle of a fullfledged growth spurt.

Co-ops led the electric utility industry in sales growth and customer growth in 2013 while holding the line on electricity distribution, according to new data from NRECA’s Strategic Analysis Unit. The annual Vital Signs report, available to registered users of cooperative.com, shows co-op retail sales rose nearly 3.1 percent in 2013 to 423 billion kilowatt-hours. That was the best performance since 2010 and outpaced the
industry as a whole, which registered negative sales growth for the third year in a row.

“After two years of low or negative growth, coop sales rebounded in 2013. Over 80 percent of co-ops had positive sales growth in 2013,” the report said, attributing part of that to weather and economic conditions. Also behind the sales growth jump was a 1.2 percent increase in the number of residential co-op customers. Co-ops added 218,871 members in 2013, the most since the economy tumbled in 2008. 

Co-ops continue to add customers at a faster clip than the industry. More than 80 percent of coops reported a net increase in customers, with Texas accounting for 20 percent of them. Georgia co-ops experienced strong customer growth, as did several North Dakota co-ops that saw gains of 14 percent to 18 percent, thanks to the oil and gas boom in the state. Overall, co-ops now serve about 19 million total customers, or about 42 million people.

“Although the rate of customer growth is down in recent years across the industry, co-ops’ growth is still higher than the industry as a whole. Coops are growing rapidly in many areas of the country,” the report said. Co-ops also maintained distribution costs at 3.62 cents per kilowatt-hour in 2012 and 2013, even though they have a lower proportion of customers per mile of line than other utilities. Rolling in other cost factors, residential rates for co-op members averaged 11.8 cents per kwh in 2013, a slight bump up from 11.6 cents per kwh in 2012.

NRECA economists compiled the report from a variety of sources, including filings with the Rural Utilities Service.

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