A Word from Our CEO

Looking at past helps prepare for the future

Another year is nearing its end and that always seems to provide a good time to look back at the year and reflect. The year 2014 was another busy year for the electric co-ops filled with challenges, ranging from the extremely cold weather last winter that led to high energy use and higher-than-normal bills for many of our members, to the announcement by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of the new “Clean Power Plan,” designed to limit carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s existing power plants.

Duane Highley, president and CEO of the generation and transmission cooperative that provides our wholesale power, described well the possible ramifications of the proposed EPA rule in his column, The Cooperative Difference, in last month’s issue of Arkansas Living. We are indeed living in a difficult time for the co-ops and the electric utility industry as a whole. But as a look back on our history reveals, electric co-ops are no strangers to hard times. In fact, we were born during one of the most difficult times in our nation’s history — the Great Depression, as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal program.

It was Christmas 1934 when President Roosevelt released his book, “On Our Way,” where he laid out his New Deal plans for recovery. Part of that included the establishment of the Rural Electrification Administration, known best as the REA. From that came “REA co-ops,” and some folks still remember us best that way.

As for electric co-op history, there is no better source than the archives of this magazine. A look back shows that once Roose

velt signed the Rural Electrification Act of 1935, the battle had just begun as the large privately owned power companies opposed the co-ops on many fronts. First known as the Arkansas REA News, the newspaper-styled publication produced by the co-ops’ statewide organization highlighted those battles in an effort to build and maintain the grassroots support of the membership.  The publication, which was renamed Rural Arkansas in the early 1950s, also noted the growth of the co-ops and promoted the use of this new tool for the farm — electricity.

An article in the January 1949 issue of the Arkansas REA News noted in bold headlines that the 100,000th electric co-op member in Arkansas had received power. The new member was Craig Barnett, who lived on U.S. 70 near Forrest City. Barnett and his family, served by Woodruff Electric Cooperative, were “the center of a statewide radio network broadcast featured by an address by Congressman J. W. Trimble of Berryville, an advocate in Congress of public power development,” the article said. In that same issue, the publication noted that “members should inform themselves so that they can reply to the propaganda attacks being made upon the rural electric cooperatives.” Those attacks included charges that the co-ops were being unfairly subsidized by the federal government.

The magazine archives also reveal the importance of electricity and the many ways it was transforming the lives of rural Arkansans. Articles throughout the early years of the electric co-ops encouraged members to buy electric appliances such as freezers to store food and electric washing machines for the never-ending laundry chore. In December 1949, 65 years ago, an ad in the publication encouraged wives to buy their husbands electric blankets for Christmas; the “GE Automatic Blanket” in fact.

Today, we don’t need to encourage the use of electricity. Instead, we work to help you use it more efficiently. It is a no longer a new, and to some, scary tool, but is instead a necessity that powers our way of life. But, affordable and reliable electricity is not something we should take for granted, any more than we would any other of the many blessings in our lives. Instead, as the holidays approach once again and 2014 comes to a close, let’s take a moment to reflect on how far we’ve come here in Arkansas with the rural electrification program and so much more. As we do that, please know that your electric co-op is taking the lessons from the past to help us plan and prepare for the future. With your help and support, we are confident there are even brighter days ahead.