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January 27, 2013

Lighting important to future of rural towns

CHICKASHA — By the third verse of the book of Genesis, God, in his infinite power, had taken care of light over the face of the entire earth.  In Western Oklahoma, electrical illumination took a little longer.  

In 1902 when my Great-Grandparents moved lock, stock and barrel into the newly opened Kiowa-Comanche-Apache Reservation, south of Carnegie, with their four kids, electric lights were not even on their minds.  That really didn’t matter because it was really difficult to mount light switches on the walls of a lean-to.

Even after they built a small house on their quarter section of land, the setting of the sun meant that chores, inside and out, were done by the glow of a lantern.  

My great-grandmother’s diaries recall a time before roads that her lantern on the end of a long pole would serve as a beacon to bring the men home when they were unable to return in daylight with lumber or supplies picked up in Fort Cobb.

Years later, after a larger home was constructed a mile south of the old Ozark Trail Road, electricity remained a luxury primarily found only in cities.

My mother recalls her grandparents in the 1930’s listening to an electric radio brought to life by a generator powered by a small rooftop mounted windmill.  It was allowed to operate just for the news and then shut off.

The lack of central station electricity compounded the hardship of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.  Across America, rural citizens could not get electric service…at least at a price that they could afford.

Profit seeking Investor-owned electric utilities could not, or would not, invest to extend their electric lines into the rural areas to serve farmers in sparsely populated rural areas who would only use a few kilowatts per month for lights. They thought they would not make any money selling power to that kind of customer.

In the mid 1930’s all that changed…for the common good.  

After Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected to the presidency he took on the responsibility of getting the American people back on their feet.

During his administration he proposed a plan to help solve America's financial problems with a series of government programs which was called the "New Deal". One of the New Deal programs laid the foundation for future rural electric cooperatives.

Roosevelt saw the potential benefits of providing a way for rural America to have electricity supplied to their homes and farms where investor-owned utilities refused to serve.  He once stated, "Electricity is a modern necessity of life and ought to be found in every village, home, and every farm in every part of the United States."

The answer to this “energy crisis” dawned on May 11, 1935. In an effort to fulfill the objectives of government “doing for a community of people whatever they need to have done, but could not do for themselves in their separate individual capacities”, President Roosevelt issued Executive Order Number 7037, which established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA).

With the promise of low interest loans, farm leaders and groups such as the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, Oklahoma Farmer’s Union, and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service visited farm after farm to sign up members who would form electric cooperatives.  The pioneers of the rural electrification program worked long and hard to build consumer-owned and controlled electric utilities to provide themselves with the electric power they so desperately needed.

Rural electrification as well as most other government programs founded by President Roosevelt met strong opposition from those who believed that the actions of the administration was unconstitutional and that government should not be engaging in programs such as the REA.

Today, rural electrification has grown into one of the most successful self-help programs ever enacted by the U.S. Government and at least three member owned cooperatives including Caddo Electric, OEC and Western Farmers operate within the borders of District 56 between Chickasha and Hobart.

Dependable, affordable electric service is vital to rural area development and these electric cooperatives bring low-cost power to their service areas, encourage new industry, better jobs, larger payrolls and provide a better quality of life.  Electric cooperatives continue to improve living conditions and make small towns and rural Oklahoma more attractive as places to live and work for the COMMON GOOD.

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