There are three major kinds of utility companies: investor-owned, municipal, and cooperative. Municipal utilities are operated within a city or town's limits. Investor-owned corporations and cooperatives are state-chartered businesses and are organized and operate in a similar manner.
An investor-owned corporation is operated as a profit-making enterprise. When the corporation makes money it distributes it to its stockholders – who may or may not use that corporation’s products or services. These stockholders can also participate in setting the direction of the corporation by using their stockholder voting rights. However, a stockholder’s ability to set the course of the corporation is limited by the amount of stock they own – the more stock they own, the more their vote counts.
While a cooperative is structured similarly – with a board and stockholders – we’re different in few very important ways. Rather than having to make a return on investment for stockholders, a cooperative exists to provide services/products to their membership in the most economical way. Additionally, as democratically controlled organization, all of our stockholders get an equal vote in how the cooperative operates. Lastly, any profit we do make is directly allocated back to the membership, either in the form of system improvements, or as Capital Credits that are paid back to the membership.