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Cooperatives' record is up for debate

Washington Post, August 27, 2009

Sen. Kent Conrad (D-ND), a pivotal lawmaker in the healthcare debate, wants to deliver coverage to the uninsured by starting up new cooperatives modeled on rural electric cooperatives that were founded during the Great Depression. But rural electric cooperatives have a mixed track record, experts say. They brought electricity to millions of rural Americans who lacked it in the 1930s and today serve about 14% of Americans. But after 75 years, the rural electric cooperatives still rely heavily on federal credit subsidies, have weak balance sheets, and, some studies suggest, operate less efficiently than privately-owned utilities.