Rural Lives Transformed
Building electric power lines was only part of the challenge facing the farm-led cooperative. Farm homes and out buildings also needed to be wired in order to receive this exciting new “hired hand” – the wired hand of electricity.
During the height of WWII, farmers were discovering that electric motors provided the ideal farm power. In 1943, poultry houses and pig brooders were popular farmstead uses of electricity among cooperative members. It was said that “many a good light was burning late in the night, giving sufficient ‘day-light’ to get a big job done.” The war impact was felt in every segment of U. S. society, including the new electric cooperatives. With the aid of electricity, farmers were growing “food for victory.” “Because I have electricity and appliances to help with the chores, I can spend longer hours in the field,” wrote C. A. Larson in 1943, a member from Austin.
“Let’s all do our part!” – The war impacted the cooperative in several ways. Not only were materials and supplies limited, but the war also took several employees away from their positions. Patriotism was very important during these years. Cooperative members and all employees subscribed $3,625 to the Minnesota REA Bomber Campaign by purchasing War Bonds in 1943. Members contributing to the cause were given credit to REA and the county War Bond quota. There was confidence that because of this statewide campaign, a “Minnesota REA Bomber” would soon be a-flying.
New electric appliances were often introduced through tent demonstrations. 4-H youth were encouraged to choose a rural electrification project. To save the cooperative money, self meter-reading and self-billing with a payment booklet was introduced in July 1944.
At the cooperative's 8th annual meeting, the members ratified a major by-law change to establish districts with representation on the board of directors from each district, a practice that continues today.
As early as 1945, the cooperative was already educating members about evening peak loads and the costs associated with meeting increasing peak loads.
With electric usage on the increase, the cooperative built heavier lines, and substations were added. Since 1951, the cooperative has purchased all of its energy needs from Dairyland Power Cooperative.
In April 1952, the cooperative moved into a handsome headquarters building, complete with warehousing facilities. It was located on Highway 16, east of Albert Lea. An addition was made to this building in 1959. During Manager Arvid Waller’s tenure, the co-op grew into a million-dollar business.
In 1960, the cooperative’s name would be changed to Freeborn Mower Electric Cooperative (FMEC). At year-end 1960, members had used a total of 1,396,018 kWh.
In 1961, the cooperative’s density was 2.9 members per mile of line, served by 29 employees.
By the end of 1962, the number of members had grown to 4,976, with the average monthly consumption of 780 kWh. The cooperative had 1,784 total miles of energized line. With the aid of technology, the cooperative still operates with 29 employees in 2007.
The US was becoming a country on the move. The Interstate highway system was authorized by the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956. Not only would the new highways be able to provide key ground transport of military supplies and troop deployments, but it opened up tourism markets and also help farmers and manufacturers transport their goods. By 1969, 99% of Minnesota farms had been electrified, with farm and home electric consumption continuing to increase.
Interstate highways impacted the Albert Lea community, spurring growth in commercial kWh sales. Construction of the two bisecting Interstate highways in the cooperative’s system area necessitated the relocation of many power poles and rerouting of lines.
Rural electric cooperatives found themselves facing new challenges, including financing. With the foresight of cooperative leaders from across the country, rural electric cooperatives established their own finance institution to seek funds on the open market to supplement the REA loan funds. In 1969, FMEC became a founding member of the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corporation (CFC). As a member-owned financial institution, CFC still provides state-of-the-art financial products to its approximately 1,050 electric cooperative members located in 49 states, District of Columbia, and three U.S. territories.
1943 - the “REA boys” raise a pole for a line extension. Galvanized steel wire would be used during this war emergency construction. “They said farmers lacked the experience or electrical knowledge to successfully operate an electric utility. Well, what we lacked in knowledge, we made up with determination.”
—William Garbisch, Board President in 1937
Although FMCLPA was a young cooperative, as early as 1942, an emphasis was already being placed on educating members in the safe use of electricity, as well as conservation techniques. Electricity offered many safety benefits. Probably none was more apparent than the reduction in fire dangers as electric lights replaced kerosene lanterns in homes and hay filled barns.
Our co-op in 1946
The first annual meeting was held December 8, 1937. Changes to reflect a consolidated board resulted in J. C. Schottler (Mower County - Windom Township) being elected to replace Carl Steele. William Garbisch (Mower County - Red Rock Township) replaced F. W. Buenzow. Frank Osborne, who had been elected to a two-year term, died in July 1938 and was succeeded by Vance Hotson (Mower County - Lyle Township).
The first line project tackled was the ambitious construction of 175 miles of power line. The first line was energized on February 26, 1938 after a wholesale power contract with Interstate Power Company had been secured. FMCLPA’s first power bill was paid April 2, 1938 for 3,600 kWhs and was in the amount of $43.05.
The first to have his farmstead energized was Alfred Lunde of Hayward, followed soon afterward by John Frydenlund, also of Hayward.
Proud of our Past, Prepared for the Future
In 1934, while people residing in cities enjoyed the benefits of electricity, less than 7% of Minnesota farms were electrified. Because there was no electricity, life on the farm was backbreaking and dimly lit drudgery. Kerosene lamps cast small circles of light. Conveniences, including running water, were unknown. Water for the home and livestock was pumped by hand and carried in heavy buckets. Since there were no refrigerators, farm wives would spend countless hours canning fruits and vegetables in order to prepare for the long winter months ahead. Livestock feed had to be ground by hand. Times were difficult.
In those days, only a very few farms were receiving electric service from the commercial utilities. Private utilities were charging hefty costs to extend their service, anywhere from $2,000 to $3,000 per mile of line. Also, farmers were asked to pay more for the electricity they used than did their neighbors in the city. Prices charged of farmers ranged from five cents per kWh to as much as 25 cents per kWh. A few ran as high as 40 cents per kWh and only a wealthy farmer could afford electricity at those prices.
As part of the New Deal, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935 on April 8, 1935. It included rural electrification as one of eight categories of projects eligible for low-cost loan funds. This was followed by President Roosevelt signing the Norris-Rayburn Bill, known as the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, on May 20th.
On December 20, 1935, a powerful idea began to take shape. Under the guidance of Freeborn County Agent Willis Lawson, about 400 persons attended a meeting held in the First Lutheran Church of Albert Lea to discuss the possibility of electrifying rural Freeborn County.
A peaceful revolution was about to begin with Freeborn County Cooperative Light & Power Company (FCCLPC) coming into existence on December 8, 1936, climaxing almost a year of preliminary meetings.
In the meantime, over in neighboring Mower County, farm people were exploring the possibility of organizing an electric cooperative and getting their electricity from the Austin municipal plant. 20 Brownsdale farmers had requested the city-owned plant to build about 6½ miles of line to serve this group; however, this was held as being out of the question. The Austin Board of Water, Light and Power that administered the municipal plant did provide the farmers hope of obtaining electricity, if the farmers could get a loan to build their own system of lines.
As a result of these conversations, the Mower County group met with the directors of FCCLPC on June 27, 1936. The Mower County group included Stephen Leckteig, A. E. Henley, Mrs. A. E. Heneley, Pete Hana, Harold Murphy, Alvin Baudler, F. S. Lightly and Assistant County Agent C. G. Powell. Mower County Agent F. L. Lieberstein had worked closely with the group and assisted the farmers in combining their efforts with FCCLPC to form a joint organization.
After additional meetings, the two groups agreed to consolidate. The officers of the already organized cooperative in Freeborn County were asked to serve this merged group until their first annual meeting was held. At that time, Mower County was to have equitable representation on the board of directors. The consolidated group then became known as Freeborn-Mower Cooperative Light and Power Association (FMCLPA).
The first office was located in the Home Investment Building in Albert Lea. With a borrowed desk and an empty nail keg for a chair, the co-op was in business. An application for a loan of $175,000 was made to REA and approved December 1, 1936. The loan would be repaid in full on August 14, 1946.
We celebrated our 75th year in business in 2011.