Ozarks Roots-Power To The Rural People
When you walk into the office of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative in Ozark, Ark., you are greeted by a larger than life Willie Wirehand. Willie was created for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association in 1950. He symbolizes rural electrification as the farmer's "best hired hand." The history of rural electrification in Arkansas began in the 1930s. During a recent visit with Bill Peters, CEO and General manager of Arkansas Valley Rural Electric Cooperative, and Greg Davis Key Accounts and Member Services, they shared some insight into the history of the Cooperative. As Greg explained, "In the mid '30s there was a big demand to get electricity out to rural areas. The investor-owned utilities really weren't interested in it, due to the cost. President Franklin D. Roosevelt recognized that this was a problem, so he, along with a group of people in rural areas across the United States, created the Rural Electrification Association. The REA program made grants and loans available to businessmen and farmers who wanted to bring electricity to rural areas."
Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative was started by people that you may remember, and some of the founders still have relatives on the Board of Directors. "The founding members were John H. Hobbs from Ruby, Van Pennington from Paris, O.M. Lowery from New Blaine, John Meisner from Charleston and Harve J. Taylor from Clarksville. Mr. Taylor's grandson is one of our Board of Directors today. I believe Mr. Pennington may also have a relative on the Board of Directors. The first loan to the REA was $200,000 in 1937. The first lines energized were through Johnson, Franklin, Crawford and Logan counties on November 28, 1938. Today we have more than 7,300 miles of distribution lines across Arkansas and 38 electrical sub stations," explained Greg.
So where does the electricity come from? Greg explained, "We are not a generator of electricity, we are strictly a distributor. We buy the vast majority of our power from Oklahoma Gas and Electric, and the remainder we buy from AECC – Arkansas Electric Cooperatives Corporation." Some people might guess that the electricity is generated by the Hydroelectric system on the Arkansas river. Bill Peters explained, "We do get some of our power from the dams, we're a 1/17th owner. We own lock and dam 13, and all of them down the Arkansas river for the hydro. We spent $330 million on those hydro plants."
The focus of Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative will continue to center around improving their existing equipment, as well as meeting the anticipated growth demands of the ever-expanding rural communities in Arkansas. Line improvements, the acquisition of land in the anticipated need for future sub stations, and implementation of new technology such as the Automatic Meter Reading program are just a few of the ways the Cooperative is working today to ensure the electrical needs of future rural customers are met.
Monies that are made are returned to the members and to the communities the Cooperative services because Arkansas Valley Electric is a not-for-profit Cooperative. This is done through various programs that they sponsor, and through member benefits. The Cooperative is also involved in educational programs, safety program, and energy conservation programs within the communities in their service area. For obvious reasons energy conservation has became increasingly important and last year we devoted more time, energy and money to energy conservation than ever before. Our plan is to increase these efforts by at least 20 percent next year," Greg explained.
So the next time you see Willie Wirehand on printed materials, remember that farmers and businessmen founded your local Arkansas Valley Rural Electric Cooperative. From 57 miles of power line energized in December, 1938 to provide electric service to 114 meters, to an ever growing 7,300 miles of power line – Arkansas Valley Electric Cooperative is proof that from small things – big things can surely come.