Shedding Light on the Seat of Power

Today was an interesting day. Today I found a small section of my brain where, upon closer inspection, it was revealed that a couple synaptic plugs had come loose from their sockets and were lying about on the floor not contributing to the overall brain function capacity assigned to my person. Sparks were flying, but the juice wasn’t flowing.

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I really hate when that happens.

It’s like discovering that for the last five years, your health plan allowed for you to have a free massage every week, but only if you clicked on the web site’s tab that said Legal Jargon You’ll Never Understand and Fine Print too Tiny to Read.

Who goes there??

Well, I did. At least for a quick look-see. Not to my health care plan, but to another ordinary every month invoice. And what I unearthed was confounding and a little bit balmy. But I am attracted to the absurd. And this fit the bill.

When I was a kid, the food co-op movement was starting to rev up its engine, and folks were beginning to find little shops where they could scoop up bulk food from hand-labeled barrels and bins. I was never particularly interested in stepping over this threshold, as the air held the scent of patchouli, and the atmosphere reeked of good health. The only bin that roused my interest was the one containing carob coated raisins and peanuts which—for a reason that could only point toward a level of unflattering intelligence—fooled me every time into believing its flavor had changed from the week prior and now would be delicious.

It wasn’t.


Just mutton dressed up as lamb.

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Recently, I have taken over paying some of the household accounts. One of them is the electric bill. Scrutinizing the statement top to bottom, I also examined its name. I belong to an electricity co-op. This came as a massive surprise to me, mostly because my mind had a hard time grappling with the mental image of local folks driving to the edge of town, where the rents are cheaper, walking into that ‘good commune vibe’ atmosphere, pushing a few old mason jars across the counter and pointing up at the bin lined shelves to say, “I’ll take 45 of the yellow joules, 25 green volts, and how bout …60—no 70 watts of the really bright red ones.”

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An electricity co-op? Really?

I had no idea any such thing existed. And since research is like an addictive drug that must maintain a high dosage level in my bloodstream, I reached into my jar of joules and cranked up the old computer for a little overtime.

It turns out that utility co-ops were introduced to the U.S. somewhere around the time of Franklin D. Roosevelt and his shiny “New Deal” plan for America. As folks were in the midst of the Great Depression, it became even more depressing to discover that Big Business owned utility companies were not interested in spending the extra bucks on investment to bring electricity, water, and communication to the outskirts of society. If your nearest neighbor was a collection of cows, you’d likely still have to rely upon your hearth, your rain barrel, and smoke signals.

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Shortly after Johnny Town Mouse left a visit to his Country Cousin, it was clear that listening to all that lofty babble about how grand things were in the city was a bitter pill no one wanted to swallow.

Cue disgruntled homesteaders, sharecroppers, and ranchers. Please enter stage left.

The utility co-op was born. Now you could tell that boasting braggart of a relative of yours that not only did you have running water and a light switch, but that you were now an owner of a business that stretched as far as the eye could see and beyond. You were a proprietor in the fast-paced industry of the Utility World. Public Power just took on a whole new meaning.

Okay, all of you in overalls and Birkenstocks, take a bow, and head back to the barn. Those cows aren’t going to milk themselves.

I liked the idea of a utility co-op. In fact, once I began to understand the structure and organization’s ideas, I called my electric company to speak with a real person to get a few more facts.

“So,” I began, “being part owner of a company, that means I have some say in how the business is run, don’t I?”

Absolutely, came the operator’s reply. The whole idea of the cooperative is that the community shares in the responsibility, management, and profits of the company.

“Profits?” I whispered excitedly. “As in revenue?”

Yes, ma’am. In this case, we call them Capital Credits. Our success is your success.

“Well, I think Capital Credits is a Capital Idea, and a Credit to whoever came up with that little gem.”

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We hung up the phone and I paced about the kitchen planning what I would do with the share of my business—my Capital Credits. I quickly phoned back.

“I forgot to ask. When do I receive my dividends? When do you cut me a check?”

Oh! the operator chuckled, You, yourself, won’t actually receive any money. But the benefactors of your estate will.

“Wait. What?”

Yes, it’s called Estate Retirement.

“You mean I have to die first to extract benefits from the co-op.”

Precisely. We simply need to see a death certificate from your estate representative, and whomever you dictate in your will to be the recipient is immediately issued a check for your years of collecting Capital Credits.

“Hold on a second. I grow my own vegetables. I DO NOT HAVE AN ESTATE.”

It’s just an expression, the operator said, snickering again.

“Well, I’d like to express my dissatisfaction with the way the profits are withheld from owners.”

Ma’am, this is a business. The profits are mostly rolled over into maintaining a working utility company.

“What happened to the whole idea of “Sharing is Caring?”

Oh, dear, the operator said. I’m just going put a mark in your file for future reference to other agents should they take a call from you. You are what we refer to as Newbie Members.

“What does that mean?”

New to the idea of business profits and margins. In your case, The lights are on, but nobody’s home.



Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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105 thoughts on “Shedding Light on the Seat of Power

    • ya: Peak rattled my me(s)mory and Lo (low, loe, lough…) MY elec company is also a co-op. and, sigh, unlike Peak, after a few years we started getting the “capital credit” checks from several years before. each check is an amount which could pay for a typical one-month bill. but, like Peak, we get notices saying “keep track of this in case you move out of the service area, or die”. there is SO MUCH I PLAN ON CHECKING ON WHEN I DIE, by the way.

  1. Our daughter described a similar thing she has just discovered about her health insurance. She could have been collecting a rebate for going to the gym, before her membership just expired!! :/ This would be even funnier, Shelley, if it wasn’t so painfully true in so many ways. Still pretty funny though!

    • It’s a bit like the shenanigans many credit card companies are goofing about with – where they’ll price match any deal you can get, but first you have to provide a photo of the item with the tag attached, a signed letter from the store manager, and half a pint of O negative for their corporate blood drive that month. Good grief.
      Wonderful to see you words as always, Ardys. oxo

  2. Wow, so the old adage really is true ‘always read the fine print’. Highly entertaining and I adore the ‘mutton dressed up as lamb’ Gottism and your reference to carob peanuts. Blech. There ain’t no disguising it ain’t the real deal.

    • I still try them every once in a blue moon at my local shop. Brown, wonky wax-flavored peanuts still taste the same the world over. No surprise. It’s just remains alarming that I continue to reach into that damn bin.

  3. I’d like to know why electricity comes into my home (via a meter) on one wire, which is the basis for billing me on a regular basis, and then apparently leaves my home (bypassing the meter) via another wire. I am thinking of making this public knowledge because, to be ethical, surely when the stuff leaves my home it should go back through the meter and therefore trigger a credit ………. or bypass the meter (my preference) when coming in. Also, I’m given to understand that some of my electricity ends up in other homes. This is all wrong!

    • It sounds like you’re leaking electricity, Colin. (says the girl who knows diddly squat about the incomings and outgoings of home voltage juice). And I’d really like to see what Rob would come with if he tried to illustrate that little concept. Surely it would involve vegetables.

      • That would be an interesting illustration. I also have a 3rd wire (green one) which has questionable value, so perhaps I could get my electricity both in and out via the green wire. That means it would be free …… but when it finds its way over to the neighbors house, they can pay for it! Perfect! Nothing wrong with my synaptic thingys!

  4. Hilarious! Are your kids encouraging the growth of their unexpected legacy by encouraging you to leave the lights on, run the appliances and invest in even more?

    I once arrived in a new city to start a new job and within the first six months got a letter stating that the electricity company had gone public and I could sell my shares on the open market. I had no idea I ‘had shares’ but I did and it turned out every one who used that utility company had actual shares. Being financially impecunious at the time, I cashed mine in and came out with enough money to clear my [smallish] debt and buy a car. That was one of the more unusual financial events of my life, but as so many were celebrating the unexpected windfall it felt kind of ordinary too ……

    • HA! Pauline–I’d never even thought about that. I wonder if my kids have been getting mail from the electricity co-op from behind my back? Child and corporate perfidy!
      And way to go, New Zealand. Your country continues to astonish and astound me.
      Did you buy an electric car in honor of the jackpot? 😛

  5. Very funny Shelley. I’ve never heard of co-ops for utilities and ones that pay dividends on death makes it sound a little gruesome. The least they could do i write you a cheque you can cash and enjoy yourself with wherever you’re going.
    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • Oh, Jane, what I wouldn’t give to to be able to sell back some self made power to the electric company. Sadly, the grid I’d be drawing from is pretty grim. Flickering and weak is what I’ve got on offer. o_O

  6. Oh wow, we could do with a few co-ops around here. It would be useful to have mains drains, for example. I’m intrigued now. Yet again you’ve set me off thinking about something I’d not even considered before, and made me laugh while doing it. 🙂

    A special mention on the laughter front has to go to Robb’s capital/lower case/smartass cartoonist toon. 🙂

  7. I so identified with your carob peanut experience. I once spent a summer in a place where I had access to health food candy but not the real thing. It was like expecting hot chocolate and getting Ovaltine instead.
    Rob’s drawing has explained where all my missing synapses went. They have retired to some Caribbean island, with no plans to return…

    • It’s depressing, isn’t it, Linnet? Why haven’t they at least offered to take us with them?? And it’s odd–because traditionally, most folks go on vacation and leave their brains at home. Not fair.

  8. Lights are on but nobody’s home. For some reason that struck me as flippin’ hilarious. I can’t imagine that about you. I think you are always home. With guests.
    I have heard about electric co-ops most of the life, since I am a few years older. REMC had a little jingle. “Who Turned On the Lights in the Country?”. The credit part is new to me though. I don’t blame you I’d be concerned about my piece of the action too.
    You really find do find that shiny thing everywhere in life don’t you. Nothing is boring if you squint the right way. One of the things I really admire about you. Keep on doing what your doing.

    • Benson, your smooth compliments are purely addictive. I’m guessing your years in the culinary trade has made you keenly aware of the secrets to creating something moreish. Michelin starred success!

  9. Oops. Hit wrong button!
    We are lucky here in Illinois. I can choose what company supplies our electricity and the prices can really fluctuate. I’m paying .05 kwh, where my neighbor is paying .11 kwh. Pays to shop around here.

  10. What a great post, Shelley. Mutton dressed up as a lamb made me smile. Your virtue to look and investigate is my foible. I would have simply paid the bill and remained blissfully in the dark. Good for you! Thanks for teaching me something. Co-op utilities. Hmmmm.

    • Ah well, Cindy, that “virtue” came about simply because I grew tired of hearing too many people shout, “Seriously??” at me for falling down in the same pot hole on the path of life. Sometimes it pays to find a new route to your destination. (okay, in this particular case it doesn’t necessarily pay me, but I think you get my point.)

  11. I love your writing and your humor! Great take on the ripoffs of modern society. Sounds like your co-op is more like a chicken–you lay the eggs and the company gets to eat them! I’m going to reblog this.

  12. Bit like the misunderstood ‘benefits’ of solar power. So many people thought they’d never have to pay for their electricity again when in truth they forked out a fortune for the panels which tops up the National Grid and all they get is a reduction in their bill, even if what they produce is way more than their actual usage.

    • I’ve read a little bit about this too. And I understood many folks to be hugely frustrated and now feeling quite duped. The conversations about solar power are growing more vocal in the states–and I recently have been reading a bit about the option to purchase ‘solar power credits’ even if you were not equipped with panels for your own home. Still looking into it.
      And a couple of months ago, when I wrote about Elon Musk, one of the things I found really intriguing was his Solar City business plan. It’s not available where I am (just yet–fingers crossed, AHEM, Mr. Musk!), but from what I understand, you’d be given the panels for free. You pay for the installation and usage. But again, I’m not fully informed about the business model–but definitely curious!

      • We have a program here (S. Ontario) whereby if you install solar panels, any surplus electricity generated is metered back onto the grid and you get a credit. I’m not sure how cost effective that really is given the cost of solar panels but, as they are working all day, then when nobody is home, they are technically working for you. On cloudy days and at night, your home would draw from the grid. It’s interesting. 🙂

      • We looked into it in the cottage, and it turned out our roof was facing the wrong way and it would have taken about 100 years ‘in savings’ to get our money back (not allowing for the Power companies increasing tariffs of course)! Government incentives offer £10,000 towards the cost, then the small print says this is paid back in £500 annual installments!! Hubby is definitely going for it for the boat though, as a solar panel will produce enough to trickle charge our batteries rather than rely on being plugged in to the mains, and that will save us money.

        • Yep, I can see how it might be financial sense with the boathouse. I’ll be curious to see how it turns out and hopeful that it’s a fiscal win for you guys. Hope you blog about it.

          • Will do. Many fellow boaters have opted for solar panels and never regretted it. We are lucky that we have mains to the pontoon, but when we’re traveling the canals of course, we’ll be solely dependent on our batteries.

  13. You are hilarious. What a great way to inform people of the weird and the wonderful.. We used to live in the province of Ontario in Canada. The hydro bills there were interesting. We paid an amount to help pay down the hydro’s debt, an amount for the delivery of the hydro to our home another amount (for God knows what, or maybe even he doesn’t). We paid more for all these other charges than we did for hydro itself (on top of the taxes). Then we moved and the house lie empty waiting to be sold. Everything was out unplugged etc. They installed “Smart Meters” which said we always used more hydro with only a low heat on and nothing else than when we lived there and had a house full of people. They told us we needed to hire an electrician to find out what was causing the problem. Yup we laughed and thankfully sold the house. Love big business.

    • Oooh, that really smells of deception. I’d be smoldering with anger over those bills. Which would be ironic considering the hydro would be the issue causing the slow burn.
      Glad you sold the house, and I hope you’re in a situation that isn’t giving you as much grief.
      And I’m also happy you liked the post. Thanks for your gracious comments, Donna. Cheers to you!

  14. reading the fine print matters. this story’s about my phone bill in college.

    it was a landline (yes landline) and it was cheaper to set it up on my parents account. i did my duty and cancelled when the year was over and never thought any more about it. my parents never thought about it either, apparently.

    until, that is, i noticed a charge on their phone bill for my college line some 6-7 years later (it’s also when i took over power of attorney 😉 ) so now we read bills like eagles, keenly.

    as for electricity people in my neighborhood use solar panels and swear by them. it seems to add up when the +100˚ days of summer roll around and blackouts start rolling out in other parts of the country. if i join the solar army, i’ll let you know how it goes.

    p.s. since you’re in a co-op does changing your light bulbs or switches earn you a discount?

    • Ooh, Mac, that’s a pricey mistake. Your poor folks. Yep. Lesson learned.
      Glad to hear the panels are getting a thumbs up from your local territory. It certainly would be nice if more folks were able to use it with ease.
      And that’s a good tidbit to research. Back to the fine print.

  15. Oh Jeebus, you never want them to write in your chart. I’m a problem customer everywhere. Every business I have ever patronised has my name in red ink, and all that means is “Don’t ever, under any circumstances, help this woman. She sucks”. It’s a bad life. Those corporations rule everything, you know. I could be dragged out of my house and imprisoned at any moment, you just never know.

    • Ha! Boy does your scenario sound familiar. I think we may get a bad wrap simply because we ask too many questions. I’ve learned from way too many slips that what people say and what people do usually reveals a wide gap between the two, and what you are promised and what you will get are often times hemispherically apart. I’ll take my chances with the red ink and try to use a kinder tone when I’m inquiring about my contract quibbles.
      I’ll keep my fingers crossed you’ll not get dragged anywhere you haven’t agreed to go first.

      • Yeah… That’s a problem for me. I’ll go anywhere, but if it sucks when I get there, then that is completely someone else’s fault. I’m good that way. It’s a strength of mine.
        Might be why they all hate me, come to think of it.

  16. I remember the co-ops with their giant barrels of beans and various types of flour. Little kids used to love sticking their hands into different barrels in order to mix everything up! Best of luck with the fine print.

    • Yeah, part food shop, part art shop, part discovery science museum. Good memories from that perspective.
      And I may just invest in a high powered microscope for the print that keeps getting finer.

  17. Isn’t that always the way…just when you think you’re a little ahead of the game…..drat.

    Great post as always….also quite enjoyed this subject matter…I always wondered what the heck a utility co-op was!

    • I think my motto has been more along the lines of a day late and a dollar short, Torrie. But I’m glad I was able to provide a little clarity. Good heavens, if I can spare at least one person a minute or two of floundering then it’s worth it. And of course a bit of a giggle is also the main point. 😛

      • Giggles definitely there. I was routing for you the whole time! The amazing thing about your writing is just that…..we feel your hopes go up, we feel your frustration, we feel the dismay and the disappointment. Every post is a masterpiece.

        • Okay, Torrie, you win comment of the week. You are going up on the FRIDGE. And I pledge to read your words and send a thank you hug northward every time I open the door to reach for a spoonful of Ben & Jerry’s.
          Prepare for a bombardment of wraith-like squishes because both of those frozen desert dudes know I am wholly dependent upon them to fuel my day.

  18. LOL! I live 1 mile outside of a small town. Yes, we have the utility co-ops. I wasn’t aware of any dividends or credits myself. I thought it was a case of a smaller bill each month. After all, $28 for water, which includes showers, dishwasher, washer (clothes), facets, and outside spigots is pretty reasonable.

    • Wow! That is a mighty good deal. You better keep shtum about where your small town is, or half the folks who read this blog may soon make arrangements to sell everything and head your way!

  19. Did enjoy your recounting the phone conversation. Oh how it resonated! Love Rob’s interpretation of your wee synaptic plugs. We should all probably let our own versions of these critters out more. I’m sure it would revitalise our brains. Mind you I think some of mine went out to play and forgot to come back 🙂

    • Thanks, Anne, I’m glad you got a chance to read it in between busy shifts at the bookstore. And although Rob nailed it in that my synaptic plugs look a bit like miniature russet potatoes with limbs, I’m guessing most other folks’ synapses are likely not sunbathing boozers. But you’re right–they might benefit from a short harbor cruise. Let’s hope they don’t all decide to leave their shifts together.

  20. Wow, I had no idea there were such things as electricity co-ops, even though I teach the New Deal every year. What a sneaky way to keep those Capital Credits from the customers, though. Good for you for investigating, even if the outcome was disappointing!

    • Perfect, Abby. We now have a surefire way to warn kids ahead of time as to what they may be getting themselves into. Maybe you can add that tidbit about how the shiny New Deal has a tiny bit of tarnish on it to next year’s curriculum?
      As always, it wonderful to see your words. 😀

  21. You must compile a book of your clever posts. Did you mention once you have one in progress? If so let us know when it will come out; if not get started on it! You are the Bill Bryson of the blog world.

    • A million thank yous, Cinda. Bill Bryson is one of my literary heroes.
      And yes, I do have a book that’s coming out. August 4th is the publishing date, and currently, I’m just barely keeping my nose above the waterline as far as prepping for the launch. But I suppose death by words is pretty much every author’s ideal way to die. Let’s see if I make it. 😛

  22. Hey Shelley,

    You don’t fool me for one minute, the lights are always on and someone is always home – she just likes to nap sometimes and the results are hilarious 🙂 Great read and really funny as usual.


    • It is always such a pleasure to see your words here, Clare! And ok, the odd nap is an exercise I would really like to get into the habit of practicing, as surely it would make for smoother, more efficient brain power. It’d be so much nicer than forcing those little synaptic plugs onto a high-speed treadmill when I desperately need them simply because everyone was taking way too long a break down at the water cooler.

  23. Here’s to more co-ops not waiting until we die to share the profits. Rob, congratulations on coming up with the idea of lower case credits. I shall at some point get around to reading the fine print about what they actually do.

  24. How rude! 😂 Co-ops are an interesting idea. I know that in Kyoto, there are tons of them, but I haven’t really tried to get involved with them. I probably would have asked if everyone has to pay for the company’s failures, too… I’d certainly make sure they couldn’t come collecting until my estate was defunct… 😛

    • I love when “small” big business desperately tries to market themselves as grander than they actually are. They’re such an easy target to goof around with.
      Thanks for reading, Susan. Cheers to you!

  25. “Just mutton dressed up as lamb”….~> I love it!~ 😎
    Well I don’t know too much regarding solar energy and that stuff but it sounds as the newest avant garde way to get everything switch on!… ~ By the way… You have a powerful ability: You have me nodding all the time as I read your words 🙂 I hope you have a wonderful weekend. Best wishes ⭐ Aquileana 😀

    • Aquilenana, you have made me flip with joy over your comment. I think as writers, it’s one of the loftiest goals we set for ourselves. To connect with our reader is the main point, right? In fact, if we step back and pull the perspective scope out for the widest view possible, to connect with our fellow human beings is probably the most fulfilling achievement we strive for. And every day we are on a quest in order to do so.
      Many thanks for your exceptionally kind words.
      Here’s to those happy, sunny days. Cheers!

  26. OMG!! The food co-op of my childhood! Your description brought all those images rushing back – the huge containers of dates and raisins in our pantry, the smell of that little store, the CAROB. Aw man, that carob! My mom tried to convince us it was chocolate. It wasn’t. It soooo wasn’t chocolate. But, grudgingly, we ate it anyway because it sort of looked like chocolate, and (like you) we kept hoping it would taste better than the last time she bought it.
    Sorry your electricity co-op, although it appeared to be chocolate, turned out to be such a disappointing morsel of carob!

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