Butler REC reaches milestone serving members

For 75 years Butler Rural Electric Cooperative has provided power to its members in Butler County.

The need for coops first appeared in 1935 when the annual agricultural census found only 10.9 percent of the 6,812,350 farms in the Unites States received central station electric service. From that, a Rural Electrification Act was enacted in 1936 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. This provided an official status to the federal Rural Electrification Administration as a lending agency for electric cooperatives, authorizing $410 million for a 10-year program to light up the countryside.

In 1938 Butler REC got its start. According to an article on the front page of the Augusta Gazette on July 8 of that year, plans were underway for providing electricity to farms. Papers for incorporating the county group were drawn up in El Dorado. Leading up to this was a year-long survey to secure rural electric customers. According to the article, Fred Wilson was the temporary chair of the county group.

In August of 1938 the Butler REC initial bylaws were adopted and people could either purchase a share of the cooperative for $5 or agree to purchase electricity from the cooperative. They started with 23 members

"What makes coops unique is you have some say in how it is run by a board and being able to vote at the meetings," said Robert "Dale" Short, Butler REC CEO. "Any margins we make are allocated back to the member."

This allocation is made after 30 years due to the need to hold funds for building lines.

Annual meetings are held for the RECs, as well as newsletters being sent out keeping people informed. One of the first newsletters, "The Lite," informed people on updates and things happening, as well including an honor roll of the people who used the most electricity.

By 1945, the REC had 845 members. Then in 1955, the REC reported 13 employees, 1,155 miles of line and 2,372 members. The average kWh used in 1955 was 197 kWh per month and the average bill was $7.82 per month.

In 1965 those numbers increased to 16 employees, 1,251 miles of line and 2,781 members, with the average kWh being 485 kWh per month.

Today they serve more than 5,800 members and have more than 6,500 meters.

Not only did they sell electricity in the early years, but they sold automated milking machines and more to encourage people to use more electricity.

"Even through the '80s and '90s we gave away things that used electricity," said Travis Griffin, members services director.

He commented on the change in thinking, where that is completely opposite today, with them teaching conservation and renewables.

"Most changes are dealing with the energy efficiency factor," Griffin said.

That is just one of many changes coops have seen over the years.

"In the beginning, the new farmers went out and helped put the electric line up," Short explained. "We have seen that progress to specialized linemen."

At first it took eight to 10 people to set a pole by hand and now it only takes a couple, with the equipment doing most of the work.

The members they serve also have changed over the years, beginning as primarily farmers to becoming more of a bedroom community.

Other changes include moving from having the customers read their own meters to having employees go out and read them to now having them read electronically over the lines. They also have the ability to turn services on and off from their offices. In addition, the system reports outages and maps them.

"That's an amazing change over the last 10 years on how data is done," Short said. "It allows us to tell consumers a lot more about what they are using and when."

Members can view their usage online to see when they use the most and where they can reduce usage to save money.

He said coops are ahead of other provides with that technology.

"We've changed more in the last 10 years than the previous 40 to 50 years," Short said.

One thing that has not changed is their standards.

"The coop's goal is to serve members and the community on a set of standards we developed," Short said.

Those include open and voluntary membership; democratic member control; members' economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community.

The coop does a lot in the community. They do a lot of educational things with kids talking about electricity safety, and they are involved in local organizations.

They also have an Operation Round-Up where members can choose to round up their bill to the nearest dollar and that is used to help needs of members such as if someone lost their house in a fire or to help groups like 4-H or Boy Scouts.

"Our mentality is still the same in helping our neighbors," Griffin said.

They also help others, including sending crews to help in hurricanes or ice storms in other coop areas.

"If they request help, we're there to help them," Griffin said.

To celebrate their 75th anniversary, REC put together a cookbook of recipes submitted by members and employees called "Cooking With The Coop."