Gerry and Gwen Geis own a cattle and sheep ranch in a family partnership near Gillette, Wyoming, and are members of Powder River Energy Corporation, a Basin Electric Class C member. Gerry is secretary/treasurer on the cooperative’s board and has served since 2013. Gerry and Gwen’s grandson, Tilden Mills, and their dog, Meg, are featured on the cover of this report.
“It’s important to us that we get our power from a cooperative because it’s member-owned and we have local control,” Gerry says. “The results of our decisions come back to the members, not to some investor.”
Gerry says Basin Electric adheres to the cooperative principles, just like Powder River Energy. ”The members own it, the members control it, and we have a representative on the Basin Electric board who represents our voice,” he says. “Basin Electric listens to its members, and that is what a co-op is all about.”
Having a say in the decisions the cooperative makes is key. A rancher knows the importance of reliable, affordable power.
“Our farm and ranch does not work without reliable, affordable power,” Gerry says. “We’ve got 30 livestock wells on power, and especially in a dry year like this, without reliable power, we can’t do our business. And even on the business side of the business, you can’t run without reliable power.”
Gerry says the cooperative principle of concern for community is important in making a cooperative stand out from other utilities.
“If you don’t give back to the community, if all you do is take and make a profit, you become disconnected from your community. And then the people in the community don’t see any connection to you, they don’t see any value in you, you may as well be 12 states away,” he says.
Both Gerry and Gwen say another cooperative principle, democratic member control, gives members a voice and can lead to connection.
“It doesn’t matter if I have one small home meter, or I have 50 meters, or I’m a coal mine. We all have a voice in how the co-op is operated and that is very important out in the west,” Gerry says.
”Cooperatives bring people together, sometimes people who would never come together otherwise,” Gwen says. “Someone comes in from across the country to work at the coal mine, and at the Powder River Energy annual meeting, they meet a local farmer or rancher. Both of them have a vote, and see that they do have a voice and can make a difference.”