According to a trade association, rural electric cooperatives provide power to 1 in every 8 Americans, and the industry faces dire numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic, with an estimated loss of $7.4 billion in revenue.
For Cotton Electric Cooperative, which powers 22,000 meters across eight Oklahoma counties from its headquarters in Walters, that could spell trouble.
On a conference call of other utility leaders organized by the National Rural Electric Cooperatives Association (NRECA) on Tuesday, Cotton Electric CEO Jennifer Meason said about 50% of the electricity they provide goes to businesses, mostly in agriculture and oil-and-gas.
"Over the past month, with COVID-19 and the pandemic, we've seen a 10% decrease" to those accounts, she said. "We've had requests from accounts to disconnect their service going forward, and these are accounts that we have served for decades. And we have been forewarned that others may follow due to the current state of the economy.
"Many of the members we serve have been laid off or furloughed," Meason said, adding that the company has offered payment plans and has suspended shut-offs for non-payment.
"These are indeed challenging times for our members as well as the co-op itself," Meason said.
The NRECA has said that electric co-ops need significant federal relief funding in order to prevent the residents they serve, especially in rural areas, from losing power.