A Word from Our CEO

 

Celebrating independence

This month we celebrate Independence Day for the 239th time in our nation’s history. And for electric co-ops, 2015 also marks the celebration of another kind of Independence Day — the 60th anniversary of the passage of the state law that allowed the co-ops to build their own power generation.

It is hard to conceive it now, but for the first two decades of Arkansas’ electric co-ops’ existence, they depended on other utilities for power generation. But by the late 1940s, it was clear this wholesale power arrangement was not working and even threatened the co-ops’ future. At this time, the co-ops were buying electricity from investor-owned utilities at extremely high rates and still did not have enough power to serve all the areas that needed it. In an effort to remedy the situation, three of the state’s electric co-ops joined together in 1949 to create and organize Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC), a generation and transmission cooperative, also known as a G & T. Later, other distribution electric co-ops also joined.

But incorporation was just the first step in a long journey filled with many obstacles. The next step was for the Arkansas co-ops to convince the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to endorse the concept and provide funding for the project. The agency originally argued that other power supply co-ops in the area could serve Arkansas’ co-op members.

After what AECC’s first general manager, Harry L. Oswald, called a “real battle,” AECC succeeded in getting a $10.6 million loan for the REA in November 1950 to build a 30,000-kilowatt generation plant at Ozark. Later, the Arkansas Public Service Commission granted AECC authority to build the power plant and transmission lines to serve it. But the investor-owned utilities continued to fight against co-op generation, appealing the commission’s ruling to the state Supreme Court. In 1953, the court decided against the co-ops, stalling the project.

But Oswald and AECC were undaunted. In 1955, the state Legislature, at the co-ops’ urging, passed Act 32 giving the co-ops the authority to build generation.  Work began on the Ozark plant, and, in 1963, the Thomas B. Fitzhugh Generation Station was completed. It was named for Thomas B. Fitzhugh, AECC’s attorney, who fought hard for the co-ops’ right to own generation until his death in 1954. On June 30, 2003, the co-ops marked the completion of a $66 million re-powering project at the plant.

In the 60 years since that watershed law passed, the Fitzhugh plant and AECC have thrived. Today, AECC, which is owned by Arkansas’ 17 electric distribution co-ops, including Craighead Electric Cooperative, has about 3,423 megawatts of generating capacity, serving nearly 1 million members in Arkansas and surrounding states. With these resources, we are able to provide you, our members, with affordable,