Electric Cooperative Board Diversity is a Failure in the South

5 Years Later, Rural Electric Co-Ops Are Still Stuck in the Past

Rural cooperatives deliver electricity to some forty-two million Americans. These cooperatives were launched by the government during the New Deal to bring electricity to rural areas, where it wasn’t profitable for private companies. But, as was the case at the time of our previous investigation into these cooperatives1, their elected leadership woefully fails to reflect the membership.

Co-Op Boards Remain Overwhelmingly White…

The states of the South are more racially diverse than America as a whole. Taken together, according to the latest figures from the Census Bureau, their population is just 56% white. Meanwhile, whites make up 93.1% of the boards of these states’ electricity co-ops. While fully 20% of the South’s residents are Black, only 6.3% of board members are. The discrepancy is even worse for Hispanics. At 19% of the South, they make up no more than 0.5% of boards. Our investigation, in fact, found that Texas was the only state with any Hispanic representation at all. In 2016, 6 of 3051 identified board members throughout the entire South were Hispanic; that number went up by just 7 in the intervening years– 12 out of 3127. Arkansas was a notable backslider, going from a whopping 2 Black board members in 2016 to 0 as of 2021.

…And Overwhelmingly Male

No state’s co-ops broke the 20% mark for the portion of women on boards. Virginia was highest, with women taking 18.6% of board seats. Louisiana came out worst on this count–only 8.7% of its board members are women.
These figures reflect “progress” since our 2016 study–every Southern state inched forward slightly–but it is progress at a positively glacial pace. It’s a rate of change that would take until the year 2106 for gender parity to be achieved.


The percentage of women on boards in Alabama went up from 10.9% to 15.1% (from 27 to 41), while the percentage of Black members increased from 4.5% to 9.4% (from 7 to 15). This, in a state whose population is 51.7% female and 26.8% African-American. Several co-ops serve areas with even higher levels of racial diversity, but that is not reflected in their leadership. For instance, Pioneer took down its pictures after we spotlighted them in our last report. It serves counties (Butler, Dallas, Lowndes, Wilcox, Autauga, Conecuh, Crenshaw, Covington, and Monroe) that together have a 38% Black population, but as of our last report only 1 of 9 board members were Black. Black Warrior has begun publicly displaying its Board members, which they had not done in 2016. The co-op serves counties (Tuscaloosa, Greene, Hale, Dallas, Sumter, Choctaw, Washington, Clarke, Wilcox, Perry, and Marengo) whose population is 42% Black. Yet just 2 out of 9 Black Warrior board members are Black. There is only 1 woman on Black Warrior’s board.
14 of the 22 Alabama co-operatives we surveyed made their elected board’s identities available to the public. Like Pioneer, PowerSouth also stopped displaying its board members after our previous report. PowerSouth’s decision to do so is notable given that its CEO, Gary Smith, writes a highly partisan column in each member newsletter that prominently features his face.


Arkansas’s boards became less transparent since our last study, with only 9 rather than 11 of the 17 making their boards’ identities plain. There were two more women on boards across the state–16 total out of the 136 we identified despite Arkansas being 50.9% female. Additionally, there were no Black board members in any of the co-ops with publicly available information. In our previous study there were 2. South Central Arkansas Electric cooperative went from having one Black member to none. This makes Arkansas’s co-op boards the only set in the South that are 100% white. By contrast, the state’s population as a whole is 15.7% Black and 7.8% Hispanic.


All the cooperatives we surveyed in Florida have publicly available information about their boards’ identities. The addition of 6 more women to Florida’s boards brought their share of representation up from 11.4% to 15.7% in a state where women make up 51.1% of the population. However, there was no change in the number of Black directors or trustees (3), and the single Hispanic board member was no longer serving, making Florida’s boards 98% white. Although Suwannee Valley Electric Cooperative serves an area with a Black population of approximately 20%, its board is entirely white.


30 of 42 (71.4%) of Georgia’s co-ops had public information available. Georgia is 51.4% female, but only 13.4% (54) of Georgia’s board members are women. That’s up from 9.1% in 2016. The number of Black board members increased from 9 to 14 (5.6% of board members). Georgia is 32.6% Black. Mitchell EMC, whose service area is evenly divided between Black and white residents, continues to maintain an all-white, all-male board.


We accessed public information about 81.5% of Kentucky’s boards. The addition of 4 women (25 total) brought their share of representation up to 9.2%, well short of the statewide percentage of women–50.7%. There are now 3 Black board members, up from 1 (1.3% of the total). Kentucky, the least racially diverse state in the South, is still 8.5% Black and 3.9% Hispanic. Clark Energy’s board remains all-white and all-male, as they were at the time of our previous study.


In Louisiana, only 6 out of 10 of the cooperatives we surveyed were transparent about their boards. The number of women on the state’s boards increased from 6 to 8 (8.7%) and the number of Black members doubled–from 1 to 2 (3%). Meanwhile, Louisiana’s population is 51.2% female, 32.8% Black, and 5.3% Hispanic. Washington-St. Tammany went from being an all-white board to having one Black member, Olander Smith.


Only 30.6% of cooperatives in Mississippi had the identity of their boards publicly available on their websites, making it the least transparent state in the South. Overall, Mississippi’s co-ops are less transparent than the time of our previous study. The addition of 9 women across the state boosted the percentage of women on boards from 7.3% to 11.1%, while women make up 51.5% of Mississippi’s population. There are 8 Black board members, up from 2, making for a 7.9% representation rate for a state that is 37.8% Black. To proportionally reflect the state’s population, 98 of board members would be Black. Southern Pine Cooperative continues to have one Black member on its board, as it did at the time of our last report.

North Carolina

As a state, North Carolina is 51.4% female, 22.2% Black, and 9.8% Hispanic. North Carolina’s boards, of course, fall short of representing those demographics, but they have the second highest percentage of women (17.3%) and the highest amount of Black representation (15.5%) in the South. This is despite North Carolina ranking seventh among southern states in its proportion of Black residents. Additionally, North Carolina has one of only three majority-Black boards in the entire set we surveyed, Roanoke Electric Cooperative. However, no board members were Hispanic. 22 of 26 North Carolina’s cooperatives are transparent about their boards.

South Carolina

South Carolina is on the more transparent side–19 of 22 (82.6%) have their boards pictured online. South Carolina has two majority Black boards–Berkeley Electric and Tri-County Electric. 12% of board members in South Carolina are women, up 2 from 10.7% at the time of our last report but very far from the state population’s 51.6%. There were 6 additional Black members elected to South Carolina boards, bringing Black representation up to 16%, the highest in the South. The state of South Carolina’s population is 27% Black. York Electric continues to have an all-white board with one woman, as in 2016.


17 of the 26 co-ops in Tennessee post their boards’ identities. In 2016, women constituted 7.8% of board members–it’s now up to 10.1% (26). Still a long way to go to match the state’s population, which is 51.2% female. The number of Black board members increased from 2 to 6, bringing Black representation up from 1.6% to 3.5%. Gibson Electric now has a Black member on its board, whereas in 2016 the board was all white.


50 of 74 (67.6%) of Texas cooperatives post their boards’ photographs online. Of board members surveyed, 89.3% were men–down ever so slightly from the 90.4% rate of our last study. 10.7% women is, of course, not close to 50.3%, the percentage of women in Texas’s population. Texas’ boards have just 2.2% Black membership and 2.7% Hispanic membership–which has the dismal distinction of being the highest rate of Hispanic representation in the South. The state as a whole, by contrast, has a population that is 12.9% Black and 39.7% Hispanic.
Magic Valley is the only majority Hispanic board we identified, although it hardly reflects the ethnic diversity within the Hispanic community.


18.6% of board members are women, the highest level of gender parity in the South and still nowhere close to the 50.8% of Virginians who are women. Virginia’s 14 Black board members make up 10.7% of the boards, slightly higher than the 9.8% we reported in 2016. Virginia is the second most transparent state in the south, with 93.8% of co-operatives making their elected boards known to their memberships. Mecklenburg’s board has the same demographics as the last time we surveyed it–7 white men and 2 Black women.


A team of dedicated researchers helped make this report possible: Ryann Cohen, Daniel Spivak, Naomy Thibault, Meagan Lee, Kiana Landry, Martin Meng, Trey Gray, Emily Thompson, Julia Stern, Khayin Maheia, and Orion Howard. David Thompson is research coordinator for the family of organizations that assembled this report, ACORN International, Labor Neighbor Research & Training Center, and Local 100 United Labor Unions. The full report and the data set is available at www.ruralpowerproject.org and the websites of the partner organizations. Questions on the report or more information can be obtained by email from David Thompson research@chieforganizer.org or from Wade Rathke chieforganizer@acorninternational.org who wrote the 2016 report, initiated the 2021 update report, and assisted on this report. If you are a member of a rural electric cooperative and want to take action for change in governance and climate policy, contact chieforganizer@acorninternational.org 1 https://ruralpowerproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Rural-Power___Final.pdf Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Arkansas Electric Cooperatives

Arkansas all coop counties

Eleven (11) of the seventeen (17) counties provided sufficient information to make determinations. 49.1% of the Arkansas population is male, and 50.9% are female. Of the board members of Arkansas cooperatives 90.4% are men, and 9.6% are women.
Racially, 74.5% of the state is white, 15.6% is black, and 7% are Hispanic. Of the identifiable board members in any level of governance, 97.8% are white, and 2.2% are black, and none are Hispanic. On the eleven (11) counties where we were able to verify information, there was no picture of one board member for Mississippi County Electric, but we counted the unknown board member as African-American. Mississippi County is 35.5% African-American. Either there is one (1) or none (0)
in terms of African-American representation on the governance of this cooperative. If he is African-American, we cannot explain why his picture was missing. If we had not counted Mississippi accordingly, there would have been only one (1) verifiable African-American cooperative board member in the state.

Arkansas Valley Electric
Ashley-Chicot Electric
C&L Electric
Carroll Electric
Clay County Electric
Craighead Electric
Farmers Electric
First Electric Cooperative
Mississippi County Electric
North Arkansas Electric
Ouachita Electric
Ozarks Electric
Petit Jean Electric
Rich Mountain Electric
South Central Arkansas Electric Coop
Southwest Arkansas Electric
Woodruff Electric CooperativeFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

South Carolina Cooperatives

South Carolina all coops

In South Carolina we also have information from all of the twenty-one (2) cooperatives. Of the two-hundred thirty-three (233) board members, twenty-six (26) are African-American for 11.2% of the total while 88.7% are white. Racially, 68.3% of South Carolina’s people statewide are white, 27.8% are black, and 5.4% are Hispanic. 48.6% of South Carolina’s people are men and 51.4% are women, while the cooperative elected membership is 89.3% men, and 10.7% women.

Aiken Electric Cooperative
Berkeley Electric Cooperative
Black River Electric Cooperative
Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative
Broad River Electric Cooperative
Central Electric Power Cooperative
Coastal Electric Cooperative
Edisto Electric Cooperative
Fairfield Electric Cooperative
Horry Electric Cooperative
Laurens Electric Cooperative
Little River Electric Cooperative
Lynches River Electric Cooperative
Marlboro Electric Cooperative
Mid-Carolina Electric Cooperative
Newberry Electric Cooperative
Palmetto Electric Cooperative
Pee Dee Electric Cooperative
Santee Electric Cooperative
Tri-County Electric Cooperative
York Electric CooperativeFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Virginia Electric Cooperatives

counties with cooperatives are highlighted in blue
counties with cooperatives are highlighted in blue

Ten (10) of the twelve (12) cooperatives had readily available information in Virginia. The state is 70.5% white with 19.7% black and 8.9% Hispanic. Men narrowly lead women in the state by 50.8% to 49.2%.

A&N Electric Cooperative
Central Virginia Electric Cooperative
Community Electric Cooperative
Craig Botetourt Electric Cooperative
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative
Northern Neck Electric Cooperative
Northern Virginia Electric Cooperative
Powell Valley Electric Cooperative
Prince George Electric Cooperative
Rappahannock Electric Cooperative
Shenandoah Valley Electric Cooperative
Southside Electric CooperativeFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Texas Electric Cooperatives

Texas all coop counties
counties with electric cooperatives are highlighted in blue

Texas is of course huge. Almost a quarter (25%) of the cooperatives
in the southern states are in Texas and twenty percent (20%) of
the elected cooperative board members. Of the seventy-three (73)
cooperatives, only forty-one (41) or 56.2% had accessible information on their websites and filings. 90.4% of the cooperative members were men, though 49.6% of the state were men, leaving 9.6% participation by women on coop governing boards though 50.4% of the state is women. Racially, 96.6% of cooperative leadership is white, 2% is African-American, and 1.4% is Hispanic, while the statewide demographics are 80% white, 12.4% black, and 38.6% Hispanic.

Bailey County Electric Cooperative Association
Bandera Electric Cooperative Inc
Bartlett Electric Cooperative Inc
Big Country Electric Cooperative Inc
Bluebonnet Electric Cooperative Inc
Bowie-Cass Electric Cooperative Inc
Brazos Electric Power Cooperative
Central Texas Electric Cooperative Inc
Cherokee County Electric Cooperative Association
Coleman County Electric Cooperative Inc
Comanche Electric Cooperative Association
Concho Valley Electric Cooperative Inc
Cooke County Electric Cooperative Association
CoServ Electric
Deaf Smith Electric Cooperative Inc
Deep East Texas Electric Cooperative Inc
East Texas Electric Cooperative
Fannin County Electric Cooperative Inc
Farmers Electric Cooperative Inc
Fayette Electric Cooperative Inc
Fort Belknap Electric Cooperative Inc
Golden Spread Electric Cooperative Inc
Grayson-Collin Electric Cooperative Inc
Greenbelt Electric Cooperative Inc
Guadalupe Valley Electric Cooperative Inc
Hamilton County Electric Cooperative Association
Harmon Electric Association Inc
Heart of Texas Electric Cooperative Inc
HILCO Electric Cooperative Inc
Houston County Electric Cooperative Inc
J-A-C Electric Cooperative Inc
Jackson Electric Cooperative Inc
Jasper-Newton Electric Cooperative Inc
Karnes Electric Cooperative Inc
Lamar County Electric Cooperative Association
Lamb County Electric Cooperative Inc
Lea County Electric Cooperative Inc
Lighthouse Electric Cooperative Inc
Lyntegar Electric Cooperative Inc
Magic Valley Electric Cooperative Inc
Medina Electric Cooperative Inc
Mid-South Synergy
Navarro County Electric Cooperative Inc
Navasota Valley Electric Cooperative Inc
North Plains Electric Cooperative Inc
Nueces Electric Cooperative Inc
Panola-Harrison Electric Cooperative Inc
Pedernales Electric Cooperative Inc
Rayburn Country Electric Cooperative Inc
Rio Grande Electric Cooperative
Rita Blanca Electric Cooperative Inc
Rusk County Electric Cooperative Inc
Sam Houston Electric Cooperative Inc
San Bernard Electric Cooperative Inc
San Patricio Electric Cooperative Inc
South Plains Electric Cooperative Inc
South Texas Electric Cooperative Inc
Southwest Rural Electric Association Inc
Southwest Texas Electric Cooperative Inc
Swisher Electric Cooperative Inc
Taylor Electric Cooperative Inc
Tex-La Electric Cooperative of Texas
Tri-County Electric Cooperative Inc
Tri-County Electric Cooperative Inc. (OK)
Trinity Valley Electric Cooperative Inc
United Cooperative Services
Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative Corporation
Victoria Electric Cooperative Inc
Western Farmers Electric Cooperative
Wharton County Electric Cooperative Inc
Wise Electric Cooperative Inc
Wood County Electric Cooperative IncFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Tennessee Electric Cooperatives

Tennessee all coops




Of the twenty-three (23) cooperatives only a little more than half, twelve (12) in fact, were transparent enough to allow data to be assembled on governance. Of those twelve (12) there were only two (2) African- American board members in the state of the one hundred and twenty-three (123) recorded in these cooperatives. The
state population is 78.7% white, 17.1% black, and 5.0% Hispanic.
The cooperative elected leadership is 98.4% white, 1.6% black, and
0.0% Hispanic. 48.7% of the state are men and 92.2% of the elected
coop board members are men, while 51.3% of the state are women
accounting for 7.6% of the board members.

Appalachian Electric Cooperative
Caney Fork Electric Cooperative Inc.
Chickasaw Electric Cooperative
Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation
Duck River Electric Membership Corporation
Forked Deer Electric Cooperative
Fort Loudoun Electric Cooperative
Gibson Electric Membership Corporation
Holston Electric Cooperative
Meriwether Lewis Electric Cooperative
Middle Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation
Mountain Electric Cooperative Inc.
Pickwick Electric Cooperative
Plateau Electric Cooperative
Powell Valley Electric Cooperative
Sequachee Valley Electric Cooperative
Southwest Tennessee Electric Membership Corporation
Tennessee Electric Cooperative Association
Tennessee Valley Electric Cooperative
Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation
Upper Cumberland Electric Membership Corporation
Volunteer Energy CooperativeFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

North Carolina Cooperatives

North Carolina all coop counties
counties with cooperatives highlighted in blue

Of the twenty-six (26) cooperatives all but four (4) furnished
fairly complete information. And though relatively
speaking the 9.8% African-American representation in
governance is better than many even compared to almost
one-third non-white population, much of this is to the
credit of the cooperatives in Pee Dee where one-third of the seats are
held by African-Americans and Roanoke, which stands along in all of
the twelve (12) Southern states as the only rural electric cooperative controlled by a racial minority with six (6) of the nine
(9) seats held by African-Americans. Men hold 87.7% of the seats to the 13.3% held by women in North Carolina where
48.7% of the population is male, and 51.3% is female.

Albemarle Electric Membership Corporation
Blue Ridge Electric Membership Corporation
Brunswick Electric Membership Corporation
Cape Hatteras Electric Cooperative
Carteret-Craven Electric Cooperative
Central Electric Membership Corporation
Edgecombe-Martin County Electric Membership Corporation
Four County Electric Membership Corporation
French Broad Electric Membership Corporation
Halifax Electric Membership Corporation
Haywood Electric Membership Corporation
Jones-Onslow Electric Membership Corporation
Lumbee River Electric Membership Corporation
Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative
Pee Dee Electric Membership Corporation
Piedmont Electric Membership Corporation
Pitt & Greene Electric Membership Corporation
Randolph Electric Membership Corporation
Roanoke Electric Cooperative
Rutherford Electric Membership Corporation
South River Electric Membership Corporation
Surry-Yadkin Electric Membership Corporation
Tideland Electric Membership Corporation
Tri-County Electric Membership Corporation
Union Power Cooperative
Wake Electric Membership CorporationFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Mississippi Electric Cooperatives

Mississippi all coops















In Mississippi 37.5% of the state is African-American. Of the twenty-six (26) cooperatives only half (50%) of them or thirteen (13) supplied fully transparent information. Of the ninety-six (96%) board members where there is certainty, only two (2) or 2.6% are African-American. 93.8% of the board members are men, while 6.2% are women in a state where women outnumber men by 51.4% to 48.6%.

Alcorn County Electric
East Miss.
Monroe County
Natchez Trace
North Central Electric Power
North East Mississippi
Pearl River Valley
Prentiss County
Singing River
Southern Pine
South Mississippi EPA
Southwest MS
Tallahatchie Valley
Tishomingo County
Twin County Electric Power Association
Yazoo ValleyFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Louisiana Cooperatives

Louisiana all coops

Louisiana is a state where we have full information on all of the listed rural electric cooperatives but these are available partially because of transparency on the part of the cooperatives, but fully available because in 2013 in a celebration of an anniversary for the statewide cooperative association, industry suppliers and contractors generously subscribed to an ad book that featured all of the names and photographs of all of the board members for cooperatives at that time. There were only two (2) board member changes in the cooperatives that had not furnished pictures on their own documents, and both were residents of communities where the
population was over 90% white, leading to a high degree of certainty that they are white as well.

In a state where 32.5% of the population is African-American according to 2014 US Census estimates and only 63.4% are white, there is only one (1) African-American board member elected in the state. 93.8% of the elected board members are men compared to the statewide male population of 48.9% Women are in the majority in
Louisiana at 51.1%, but they make up only 8.3% of the cooperative board positions.

Association of Louisiana Electric Cooperatives
Beauregard Electric
Claiborne Electric Coop
Northeast Louisiana Electric Power Cooperative
Jefferson Davis Electric Cooperative
Pointe Coupee Electric
South Louisiana Electric
Washington-St. Tammany ElectricFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Kentucky Electric Cooperatives

Kentucky all coops
counties with cooperatives are highlighted in blue

Kentucky is the least diverse state among the twelve (12)
Southern states. Only one in twelve (12) residents is
African-American statewide with 85% of the population
white and only a little more than 8% black along with a
little over 3% Hispanic. Men make up 49.2% of the state
population, but occupy 91.7% of the seats on coop boards. Women
make up 50.8% of the state and only 8.3% of the coop seats. Of
the twenty-four (24) cooperatives, information was available from
eighteen (18) of them or 75%. The giant G&T cooperative made up of a sixteen (16) different Kentucky cooperatives, the East Kentucky Power Cooperative reflects both the scale of the statewide energy enterprise as well as its lack of diversity. The cooperative
controls $3.5 billion in assets serving 1.1 million members. Pictures of the management staff and the executive staff indicate they are all white. There is one Indian-American (not Native American) pictured on their website as part of their financial leadership, otherwise the entire enterprise is white. There are twenty-two (22) members of the board and all of them are white. The Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives has much the same profile with fifty-three (53)
members representing the twenty-four (24) coops in the state and with fifty-three (53) board members, forty-seven (47) of
whom are men, and all pictures of board members being white and with only one (1) board member from the Pennyrile
cooperative being African-American, Joe E. Rogers from Cadiz.

Big Sandy RECC
Blue Grass Energy
Clark Energy
Cumberland Vallery Electric
Farmers RECC
Fleming-Mason Energy
Grayson RECC
Gibson Electric Membership Corporation
Inter-County Energy
Jackson Energy
Jackson Purchase Energy
Kenergy Corp
Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives    Licking Valley RECC
Meade County RECC
Nolin RECC
Owen Electric
Pennyrile Electric
Salt River Electric
Shelby Energy
South Kentucky RECC
Taylor County RECC
Tri-County Electric
Warren RECC
West Kentucky RECCFacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail