July 11 marked the 70th anniversary of the creation of Arkansas Electric Cooperative Corporation (AECC), which provides wholesale electricity to Arkansas’ 17 electric distribution co-ops.
It all began when three distribution cooperatives in Northwest Arkansas — Arkansas Valley, Carroll Electric and Ozarks Electric — joined together in 1949 to create a cooperative that would ultimately provide the generation resources necessary to power the homes and businesses of cooperative members.
In the early days after AECC was formed, the new generation cooperative bought power from a generation facility located at Norfork Dam, nearly 100 miles away from the Northwest Arkansas cooperative service territories. In addition, AECC obtained power from three investor-owned utilities — Arkansas Power & Light Company (now Entergy Arkansas), Southwest Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) and Oklahoma Gas & Electric Company (OG&E).
However, the cooperatives’ long-term goal was to be energy independent by producing their own power. These co-op pioneers knew that being dependent on someone else’s power plant was not going to achieve their ultimate goal of providing reliable and affordable electricity. To reach that goal, the first business objective was to obtain legal authority and financial resources to build a power plant of their own.
Although it was a challenging political goal, AECC’s first general manager, Harry L. Oswald, was able to convince the federal Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to approve a $10.6 million loan for AECC to build a power plant at Ozark. After this funding was approved, the Arkansas Public Service Commission (APSC) approved the construction of the power plant and the transmission lines to deliver the power to the distribution system. However, in an effort to prevent the cooperatives from becoming energy independent, the investor-owned utilities appealed the APSC’s ruling to the state Supreme Court, which reversed the APSC decision.
Co-ops win legal battle
Fortunately, however, in 1955, the Arkansas Legislature passed a law that gave electric cooperatives the right to build power plants and transmission lines. It had been a lengthy battle, but the fight for independence had been won. By 1963, AECC had completed construction of its first power plant — the Thomas B. Fitzhugh Generating Station at Ozark. The 59-megawatt natural gas-fired generation plant cost $7.5 million and was named for Fitzhugh, AECC’s attorney. Fitzhugh had been instrumental in forming the electric cooperative association and ensuring that AECC would be allowed to independently build generating plants. Fitzhugh also became the organization’s first full-time employee.
Today, seven decades since the creation of AECC and 56 years since AECC’s construction of its first power plant, your generation and transmission cooperative owns all or portions of 14 power plants, with a total output of 3,500 megawatts of power. Those power plants provide a diverse blend of coal, natural gas and hydroelectric energy. In addition to these generation assets, AECC has long-term contracts for nearly 1,000 megawatts of purchased power that include solar, wind, hydropower and geothermal energy.
By virtue of the cooperative’s diverse and economical investments in various power sources, your energy is among the most reliable and affordable power supplies of any generation and transmission cooperative in the United States. That’s one of many reasons to celebrate AECC’s 70th anniversary. Because you are a member of your local electric co-op, you also own a power supply co-op that provides energy independence, reliable power and affordable rates. That’s the cooperative difference.