October is National Co-op Month, a chance to celebrate the benefits and values that cooperatives bring to their members and communities.

While cooperatives operate in many industries and sectors of the economy, seven cooperative principles set us apart from other businesses: voluntary and open membership; democratic member control; members’ economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community. These seven core principles laid the foundation for North Dakota’s electric cooperatives and continue to guide them today.

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The co-op business model is unique and rooted in our local communities. Co-ops help us build a more participatory, sustainable and resilient economy. And, North Dakota’s electric cooperatives are a vital part of the communities they serve.

Sixteen distribution cooperatives, which provide power directly to members’ homes and businesses, and five generation and transmission cooperatives, which generate power using diverse energy sources and transmit that power to distribution co-ops, make up North Dakota’s network of electric cooperatives. Together, these co-ops formed a statewide association, the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, to work as a unified voice for cooperatives and provide services that advance our cooperative mission at the local, state and national level.

In total, North Dakota’s electric cooperatives serve more than 215,000 North Dakotans, maintain 64,576 miles of distribution power lines, operate at a 99.96 percent system reliability and employ more than 2,300 people statewide.

Electric cooperatives also contribute financially to the communities they serve by returning capital credits to members, charitable giving through Operation Round Up, and loans and grants provided by the Rural Development Finance Corporation (RDFC), which helps finance community-based projects and nonprofit entities that improve the quality of life in communities served by electric cooperatives. RDFC has provided more than $6.5 million in low-interest financing and more than $300,000 in grants since its formation.

Those figures illustrate why the seven cooperative principles matter.

We #PowerOn because we are cooperatives.