Utility Cooperatives

Utility cooperatives meet basic electric, telecommunications, and water infrastructure needs of their consumer member-owners.

Power lines close up

Electric cooperatives

Electric cooperatives provide energy to booming suburbs as well as remote rural farming communities providing power to 1 in 8 Americans. In Wisconsin, nearly one out every 10 electric consumers is an electric cooperative member. Electric cooperatives are divided into two groups:

  • Distribution cooperatives are consumer-owned utilities that deliver electricity directly to the consumer.
  • Generation & transmission (G&T) cooperatives are owned by several distribution cooperatives to furnish their own generating plants and transmission lines to supply power to their member co-ops.

Examples of Electric Cooperatives

Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative

Adams-Columbia Electric Cooperative  is an electric distribution cooperatives serving residents of central Wisconsin. With a service area of approximately 2,500 square miles and nearly 32,000 member-owners, it is the largest rural electric cooperative in Wisconsin.

Dairyland Power Cooperative

Dairyland Power Cooperative is a generation and transmission cooperative that provides power to 25 electric distribution cooperatives and 17 municipal utilities in Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, and Minnesota.


America’s Electric Cooperatives Fact Sheet. National Rural Electric Association.

Guides for Electric Cooperative Development and Rural Electrification. USAID/NRECA International Ltd., 2009.

Organizations Supporting Electric Cooperatives

National Rural Electric Association

National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation

Wisconsin Electric Cooperative Association

Telecommunications cooperatives

Telecommunications cooperatives are consumer-owned utilities that provide local telephone exchange services, long distance telephone operations, high speed or broadband internet access, as well other direct broadcast satellite, wireless, and TV services. Telecommunications cooperatives serve less than 5% of the nation’s telecom subscribers through coverage of over 40% of the nation’s landmass.

Examples of Telecommunications Cooperatives

Vernon Communications Co-op

Located is western Wisconsin, Vernon Communications Co-op serves over 7000 residential and business members with internet, telephone, television, and security and automation.

Cochrane Co-op Telephone

Originally organized in 1905 as Farmers Telephone Company to provide telephone service, Cochrane Co-op Telephone (CCT) serves over 1500 members in western Wisconsin with telephone, broadband internet, and IPTV services.


Cooperatives and Community Broadband Needs Webinar. UW Center for Cooperatives, 2018.

Cooperatives and Community Broadband Needs PowerPoint. UW Center for Cooperatives, 2018.

Cooperatives and Rural Broadband: A Selective Survey. UW Center for Cooperatives, 2017.

RS Fiber: Fertile Fields for New Rural Internet Cooperative. Institute for Local Self-Reliance/Next Century Cities, 2016.

Broadband Reference Guide: A Resource for Digital Stakeholders. Public Service Commission of Wisconsin, 2014.

Broadband Policies and Regulations: For Wisconsin Stakeholders. Broadband & E-Commerce Education Center University of Wisconsin-Extension, 2015.

Cooperatives Fiberize Rural America: A Trusted Model For The Internet Era. Institute for Local Self-Reliance, 2017.

Due Diligence of High-Speed Broadband Investment And Business Creation by an Electric Cooperative. NRECA/CoBank/NRTC/National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp, 2017.

Exploring the Feasibility of Rural Broadband Cooperatives: the NEW New Deal? Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, Cornell University, 2018.

Organizations Supporting Telecommunications Cooperatives

National Telephone Cooperative Association

National Rural Telecommunications Council 

United States Department of Agriculture Rural Utilities Service

Water cooperatives

Close to 3,300 water cooperatives in the U.S. are consumer-owned utilities formed to provide safe, reliable and sustainable water service at a reasonable cost. They provide drinking, fire protection, and landscaping irrigation water. In addition, many of them provide wastewater services. Water cooperatives are most often found in suburban and rural areas that are located too far from municipal water companies to receive service.

Examples of Water cooperatives

EJ Water Cooperative

Started in 1988, EJ Water Cooperative has grown from only serving Effingham and Jasper county to serving 12 counties in Illinois. EJ Water proudly provides award-winning water to more than 10,000 members throughout their service area.

L.A. Water Cooperative

L.A. Water Cooperative was formed in 1968 by a group of local residents, for the purpose of delivering water to the area around and including the former Laurelwood Academy campus. As of 2015, L.A. Water Cooperative delivered 64,707,120 gallons of water to 745 member households in western Oregon.

Harpeth Wastewater Cooperative

Harpeth Wastewater Cooperative is a member-owned wastewater treatment facility serving all or some of the Chapelwood, Cottonwood, Dunblane, Farmington, Hart’s Landmark, Legend’s Ridge, and River Landing subdivisions in Williamson County, TN.


Strength in Numbers: How to Form a Rural Utility Cooperative. Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, 2003.

Organizations Supporting Water Cooperatives

Association of Regional Water Organizations