In the 1920’s and 1930’s, before the first electric cooperative was established, this country was in the midst of the Great Depression. Back then electricity was a luxury that most rural people simply could not afford, with 90% of America’s rural areas living in darkness come nightfall. Private power companies of the day basically would not pay the money needed to bring the rural and less populated areas electricity. In fact it was common that only the wealthiest farmers and ranchers, or the people closest to a large town, could get electricity at all.
Thankfully in 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to get electricity to rural Americans. The REA program offered low interest federal loans to power companies willing to deliver electricity to rural communities. However, most private power companies would not take advantage of the loans offered by the federal government, so rural communities began to organize cooperatively to get electricity. For the first time in history people on farms and in small communities joined forces to route electricity to their homes and to their businesses. It was the beginning of the electrification of America! As a result, in 1936, Congress acted to remove rural areas from the “Dark Ages” by creating the Rural Utilities Service (RUS), formerly the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and offering the low interest federal loans directly to the rural people.
The history of West Oregon Electric is one of the finest examples of the cooperative spirit; the spirit of determination. The West Oregon Electric Cooperative was formed on March 9, 1944 with a meeting of 7 men in Vernonia’s Bush Hall. With the money from RUS loans the seven men combined several small electric cooperatives in the Nehalem Valley and Timber areas. They also purchased the Oregon Gas & Electric Company that served the Vernonia area and even bought facilities from the Clatskanie People’s Utility District (PUD). The new cooperative started clearing trees and brush, placing new poles, and stringing wire to the isolated towns and valleys of northwest Oregon. Farmers and homeowners helped dig holes and cut trees so they too could receive electricity and soon electric lines ran through the fields and forests.
West Oregon Electric Cooperative was formed to meet the needs of the people in our communities and we continue to build new lines to growing membership. Although the electric needs of our members have changed dramatically since the 1940’s, we will continue to meet the challenges of a twenty-first century membership, while providing a resourceful and reliable system at the lowest possible cost.
West Oregon Electric Cooperative
P.O. Box 69
Vernonia,, OR 97064