Kansas Electric Cooperatives Inc. turns 75 years old this week, and the organization celebrated its decades of growth at its Aug. 1 membership meeting.
The cooperative was formed by seven leaders in electric who gathered in 1941 to talk about the challenges in their industry and to pool resources to do things more efficiently and effectively, said Bruce Graham, CEO.
“Electric cooperatives in Kansas were starting to form in the late 1930s,” he said. “They all had common challenges, be it design of lines, staffing, regulations and legislation. They recognized that an association where they could pool their thoughts together would be the best thing to do. From what I’ve been able to read, their first challenge was finding members who are willing to believe that you could get electricity to rural Kansas. The cities had electricity.”
The Rural Electrification Act passed by Congress allowed neighbors to get together and form cooperatives, pooling their membership fees and then getting a loan from the federal government to buy the equipment needed to get electricity to their rural areas, Graham said.
Today, KEC has 26 employees, puts out a professional magazine that is tailored for members in different parts of the state and offers significant safety training. It launched an equipment repair business based in Osage City that repairs and rebuilds electrical equipment for member cooperatives, he said.
Twenty-nine electric cooperatives in Kansas provide electricity to approximately 500,000 Kansans in 103 of the 105 counties, Graham said.
Though technology and regulations have changed the industry, KEC’s job is the same.
“Our purpose is the same: to deliver reliable and affordable electricity to the members of our electric cooperatives. That’s the same over 75 years,” Graham said. “But the industry is changing significantly. It’s a whole lot more challenging just from the government, the environment, things like that. There’s a lot more restrictions on the way we do business, but we’re adapting to all of those.”
As nonprofits, Graham said cooperatives aren’t profit driven.
“We will need to build new generation in the future. In the meantime, we’re encouraging people to be more energy efficient,” he said. “We want to be good stewards of the environment, but if we don’t have to spend the money on building more generation, then that just keeps our costs down. We want to be as efficient as possible.”
As part of its 75th anniversary celebration, Gov. Sam Brownback attended the membership meeting and presented the group with a proclamation declaring Aug. 18 as electric cooperative day in Kansas. The organization also launched the KEC Foundation, which will collect and distribute donations and gifts to the benefit of rural Kansas. A video about KEC history is available on the organization’s website, www.kec.org.
Originally posted on cjonline.com