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.