Egyptian Electrical Cooperative Association is not like many other energy providers.
Sure, when the customers serviced by Egyptian flip on a light switch, the room lights up thanks to the electricity delivered through the power lines. The difference between Egyptian and other utilities, however, is that the customer is also an owner.
Egyptian is a not-for-profit organization known as a cooperative, or co-op for short. In essence, the entity is owned exclusively by the people who use its products, in this case, electricity. There are no stockholders, just members, each of whom has an equal say in the operation of the cooperative.
“We were created in 1938, primarily because the investor-owned utilities would not bring power to the rural areas,” said Brooke Guthman, member services manager for the cooperative.
Guthman says in the early days of electrification, it was not cost-effective for regular utilities because of the density of potential customers. While public utilities have an average of three dozen customers drawing power from each mile of line, Egyptian has an average of 7.5 members per mile of line. All told, Egyptian Electric maintains more than 1,900 miles of line — in some of the most rural and most remote areas of Southern Illinois — to serve nearly 15,000 households and businesses.
“We go from Red Bud and Coulterville then south all the way to Johnson and Union counties. We have about one-third of Williamson County, all of Jackson and Randolph counties, part of Perry as well as part of St. Clair and Washington counties. In all, we go into parts of 10 counties,” Guthman said.
While admittedly, electric rates for cooperatives are somewhat higher than those of other utilities, Guthman says there are benefits to being served by Egyptian Electric.
“We base everything on our seven cooperative principles: open membership, democratic member control, member economic participation, autonomy, service in the form of education and training, cooperation with other cooperatives and concern for the community,” she says. “But beyond those, we try to give the best customer service experience possible.”
She says the cooperative strives to respond quickly to telephone calls and to minimize both the number of outages and the response time to the outages. She says many of the cooperative’s lineman actually work from their homes spread around the Egyptian service area to speed repairs to broken equipment or downed lines.
As owners, Egyptian Electrical Cooperative Association members benefit from efficient operations. According to the organization’s website, all net savings (profits) left after bills are paid and money is set aside for operations and improvements are returned to the cooperative members, usually in the form of refunds called capital credits. Last year, Egyptian Electric mailed 6,470 checks to members that received electricity in 1987 and part of 1988 totaling more than $400,000.
Guthman says the cooperative also prides itself on truly serving its members.
“We truly take heart in knowing our members and understanding what they are going through and I like that we have the ability and to fix things and have real conversations with our members to meet their needs,” she sid.
The cooperative, which has just under 40 employees, moved into a newly constructed headquarters building on Illinois 127 north of Murphysboro in October 2017. The new facility consolidated two separate offices — one in Steeleville and one east of Murphysboro — increasing efficiencies for the organization.
“It’s a great location for the density of our membership and more than anything, it has allowed us to improve and streamline our internal processes,” she said.
Guthman says she is most excited about the role that Egyptian Electric has in the community, giving a long list of community development and service projects. She says Egyptian has efforts to help with revitalization of downtowns in the communities served and has a number of economic development projects underway. The cooperative also offers scholarships, classroom grants and youth leadership programs.
“I’m very proud to work for the cooperative; I feel like I’m part of something much bigger,” she says.