There was a time, however, when electricity was unavailable to a large segment of the rural population. Even though towns, like Watertown or Clark, had electricity as early as 1900, the power lines necessary to provide electricity to rural areas did not exist. The private power companies were not willing to construct lines to serve fewer than two consumers per mile.
Private Power Companies Say "No" to Rural Communities
Jake and Katherine Krull, a farm family south of Watertown, and several of their friends and neighbors asked and asked and asked the private power companies who served nearby towns to extend electric lines into the country; but the answer was always the same . . . NO.
Rural Electrification Administration
With the help of County Extension Agent John Noonan, a few Codington County farmers tried to do just that. So did a similar group in Clark County with the help of their agent Coleman Wagner. REA suggested the two groups combine to form one organization large enough to get the job done.
Electrification Project Meeting
First Employee Hired
The board of directors hired Buell & Winter, a Sioux City, Iowa, based engineering firm, to draw plans to build 489 miles of line to serve 682 signed-up members.
The board submitted the plans and a loan application for $400,000 to REA. REA approved an initial allotment of $200,000, half the requested amount. REA also designated which lines should be built first.
Interrupted by World War II
World War II put a stop to Codington-Clark Electric's project. On orders from the government, the association ceased all operations. The membership money was invested in government bonds. For all practical purposes, the company ceased to exist.
The end of the war meant a new beginning.
Office Established, First General Manager Hired
The re-united board of directors immediately made plans to pick up where they left off nearly three years earlier.
In February 1945, an office for the organization was established in the Midland National Life Insurance Building on the corner of Kemp and Broadway in Watertown. Within a year, the office would move to the west annex of the Kampeska Hotel.
Wilbur VanOrsdel was hired as manager.
First Contract to Build
To keep members informed on the progress of the project, the co-op published the first issue of the Codington-Clark Electric Association News in December 1946.
First Electrified Farm
It's next to impossible for people who have grown up with electricity to imagine the deep emotion felt by farm families when REA came. After lights, the radio was the most wanted appliance in farm homes. The radio ended the isolation of rural people. Farm wives generally put electricity to work before their husbands did. They switched to electrical equipment as fast as family finances permitted. Few tears were shed for the abandoned cook stove or root cellar as electricity took over. The average farm used 40 kilowatt-hours per month in 1947. The cost per kWh averaged 6 cents. Power in those days was supplied by Northwestern Public Service Company through two substations.
First CCEC Annual Meeting
The cooperative entered the 1950s with a growing membership eager to use electricity . . . which caused a problem.
Northwestern Public Service Company had trouble producing enough electricity to meet the growing demand. Shortages and black outs threatened.
Rural electric leaders in eastern South Dakota tackled this problem with the same vigor seen a decade earlier. They decided the rural electrics could provide their own source of wholesale power. They assigned the task to East River Electric Power Cooperative in Madison, South Dakota.
While East River Electric did not actually generate any electricity, the organization did build a network of high voltage electric lines to link together all rural electric co-ops in eastern South Dakota. East River bought electricity from Northern States Power Company in Sioux Falls while waiting for the completion of the Missouri River dams and power plants.
Clark Substation Energized
Power from Ft. Randall Dam
The Army Corps of Engineers built the Missouri River Dams under the Flood Control Act of 1944. That act established the "preference principle". Simply put, the preference principle says any electricity generated by federally-built dams goes first to non-profit municipal electric systems and rural electric cooperatives.
Open House at New Business Office
Annual Meeting Attendance Record
Power Needs Change in the 1960s
As the decade of the ‘60s arrived, mounting evidence indicated the power plants at the Missouri River Dams could not keep pace with the continually growing demand for electricity.
Once again, electric cooperative leaders gathered to work out a solution. The result . . . Basin Electric Power Cooperative was born. Basin Electric set out to build power plants in North Dakota, utilizing the rich coal deposits available there.
Basin also built a high voltage transmission system to deliver the power to South Dakota and parts of seven other upper-Midwestern states. By 1966, the first power generated by Basin Electric surged through the power lines to help Codington-Clark and the other rural electric systems of the area meet their needs.
By the end of the 1960s, East River needed six substations to serve the needs of Codington-Clark’s members. Average farm usage grew to 910 kWh per month. The average price paid by members fell to an all-time low of 2.3 cents per kWh.
The 1970s - REA Program Stays Alive
A decade later, the Reagan administration would attempt a similar move. However, both times, rural electric leaders, like Maurice Bergh of Florence, rallied the support of rural people and battled the bureaucrats and politicians in Washington, D.C., to keep the REA program alive.
Member load growth continued during the 1970s. The drought conditions of the mid-70s caused a dramatic increase in the number of irrigation service sites. New commercial and industrial loads came on line. East River added a seventh substation. Statistics for 1979 reveal the average farm now used 1,824 kWh per month . . . twice as much as ten years earlier. Inflation had driven up the average cost per kWh to 3.4 cents.
The 80s - Good Times & Bad
For the first time in its history, Codington-Clark Electric Co-op faced declining numbers for both memberships and energy sales.
But the co-op fought back. Joining the other members of East River Electric, the co-op implemented an intensive Off-Peak Marketing Program.
By promoting off-peak electric water heating, dual fuel heating systems, electric thermal storage heaters, low temperature electric crop drying, and electric-powered irrigation, Codington-Clark not only reversed the trend, but kick-started a growth spurt that would last for years.
The '80s ended with the cooperative involved in yet another exciting venture . . . wireless cable television. Codington-Clark was instrumental in the formation of North East TV Co-op. For more than a decade, NETV provided rural people in northeastern South Dakota with television viewing opportunities formerly available only to cable TV subscribers in towns. Satellite technology and fiber-optic cable eventually provided much broader options for telecommunication services.
Last decade of the 20th Century
Perhaps the deadliest combination for an electric cooperative is freezing rain and high winds . . . like the November 2005 ice storm that interrupted service to all of Codington-Clark’s 3,000-plus service sites – some for hours – many for days. Exhausted repair crews struggled for 13½ days to restore power to the last service site reconnected. Total recovery efforts took more than a year.
The Vision Continues
The devotion of the original organizers . . . the support of more than 7,000 past and present members . . . the dedication of those leaders who have served on the cooperative's board of directors and fulfilled the duties of the various corporate officers . . . the labor of more than 100 full-time and countless part-time workers employed thru the years. All were driven by a belief in the cooperative business model.
Yesterday helped make us who we are today, a co-op manager once said. Today, we have the opportunity to influence where we will be tomorrow. Members, directors and employees will come and go. We’ll see many changes as the future unfolds. But the commitment of men and women working toward a common goal of serving people’s needs will not change.
Codington-Clark Electric Cooperative . . . The vision continues.