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01 March 2021

In last month’s article I discussed the unique history of HCE and cooperatives in general. This month I am going to delve a little deeper into how and why electric cooperatives came to be. In the mid 1930’s, 9 out of 10 rural homes did not have electricity. They relied on kerosene lanterns for light and wood stoves for heat and cooking. Before the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was formed, electricity was found mostly in towns where larger populations made it more feasible and profitable for power companies to provide service.

In the first five years after the REA was formed in 1935, they provided millions of dollars in loans to survey areas, place distribution line and wire homes in rural America. According to one study by the Nation Bureau of Economic Research, with the help of REA loans, cooperatives’ miles of distribution lines surpassed those of the five largest private utilities in the country between 1935 and 1940. After World War II, the number of rural electric systems doubled and by 1953 over 90 percent of U.S. farms had electricity.

None of the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOU) during 1935 to 1940 took out loans from the REA. They had no interest in building out their networks to serve rural areas. Had the IOU’s taken out REA loans, our power systems may look very different, resulting in a centralized system with just a few companies in the U.S. having control of the electric industry. Fortunately, this did not happen. Today, there are more than 900 consumer owned electric cooperatives, public power districts and public utility districts in the United States.

HCE is a distribution electric cooperative serving our members, both residences and businesses. HCE purchases electricity through Central Montana Electric Power Cooperative (CMEPC). CMEPC purchases the electricity to meet their members’ needs from generation and transmission Power Marketing Administrations (PMA’s) such as Western Area Power Administration (WAPA), and cooperatives like Basin Electric Power Cooperative (Basin). WAPA delivers power created from hydroelectric plants across their transmission lines to cooperatives like HCE. Basin has both generation plants and transmission lines so they can create and deliver the power to HCE.

HCE is proud to be a cooperative and proud to serve our members across the Hi-Line.