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CO - OP LIVI NG GL By Megan McKoy-Noe, CCC Lighting the World H

ow do you build a better world? By changing one life at a time. Driven by this premise, electric cooperatives brought power and light to millions of con- sumers across the United States, forever alter- ing the economic fortunes of rural America. Now, with designation of 2012 as the Interna- tional Year of Cooperatives, 900-plus electric cooperatives around the country are celebrat- ing the impact they have made in Oklahoma and overseas.

Farming Revolution

As late as 1935, nearly 90 percent of rural residents were living in the dark—forced to rely on iceboxes or spring houses to cool food, kerosene lamps for lighting, wood stoves for cooking, and fetching water from wells. The reason: the big investor-owned utilities had decided that there was no profi t to be made extending power lines into the countryside to hook up farms and small towns.

Above: Singing River Electric Cooperative linemen show locals in Jalapa, Guatemala, how to use modern technol- ogy to manage an electric grid. Below: A young man in Haiti stands silently by a transformer that, by electrifying his classroom, could give him more opportunities in the future. Photos coutesy of NRECA International

2012 also marks the 50th anniversary of NRECA International Programs, a division of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Asso- ciation (NRECA).

Working together, more than 300 U.S. elec- tric cooperatives have delivered the benefi ts of safe and reliable electric service to more than 100 million people in 40-plus countries since November 1962.

“Building a better world takes experience, and no group has more experience in bringing low-cost power to remote communities than electric co-ops,” explains Glenn English, CEO of NRECA.

At the invitation of President John F. Ken-

nedy, NRECA joined forces with the U.S. Agen- cy for International Development (USAID) to share electric co-op expertise and export the democratic, self-help cooperative model to un- developed countries. In many cases, teams of

That’s where the co-op business model came into play. Farmers and other leaders realized central station elec- tricity service would end the drudgery of rural life. After clamoring for relief for decades, they received a big shot in the arm in May 1935 when President Franklin D. Roo- sevelt signed an executive order creating the federal Rural Electrifi cation Administration (REA)—now Rural Utilities Service. The agency’s mission: provide low-cost loans as well as engineering and administrative support to help electrify rural regions.

“Electricity is a modern necessity of life and ought to be in every

village, every home, and every farm in every part of the United States,” Roosevelt announced. REA fi nancing initially was meant to entice big power companies to begin rural line construction. When they balked, it soon became clear rural electrifi ca- tion would only be accomplished by farmers and their rural neighbors doing it themselves by joining forces to form electric cooperatives. By October 1940, electric co-ops nationwide were serving 1 million members. Innovations in line building pioneered by REA engineers and the competitive pressure co-ops placed on investor-owned utilities to serve rural areas slashed the cost of providing rural electric service by 50 percent or more.

Three-quarters of a century later, electric co-ops are still building a better fu- ture by delivering affordable electric service to 42 million members spread across 75 percent of the nation. But electric co-ops didn’t stop there.


volunteer American electric co-op linemen head to foreign lands for a few weeks to teach local lineworkers safe work practices. Then NRECA staff instructs locals how to maintain simple power grids and run their own utilities.

Funding for this goodwill effort comes in part from the NRECA Interna- tional Foundation, a registered charitable organization. NRECA Interna- tional Programs projects are currently under way in Afghanistan, Bangla- desh, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, the Philippines, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Yemen.

Much More to Be Done

In America, electricity has evolved from a luxury to an essential part of daily life. Yet more than 2 billion people around the globe still live without power—64 million in Latin America, 500 million in Africa, and more than 1 billion in Asia.

According to NRECA International Programs, reliable electricity strength- ens communities by providing better educational opportunities and increasing safety. Access to power also paves the way for progress, giving small business a much-needed boost. To assist NRECA International Programs efforts, visit www. OL

T is month, Oklahoma Living is revealing the winners of the 2012 Calendar

Contest on page 16. T e calendars are available for sale at or by mailing an order form found on page 17. All the funds raised from the sale of the calendars will benefi t NRECA’s International Foundation in its eff ort to brighten the world, one village at a time.

Electric cooperatives make an impact at home and abroad BAL CONNECTIONS

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