It’s been 80 years since the first electric co-op pole was erected in Arkansas. In the November 1967 edition of Rural Arkansas, now Arkansas Living, Harry L. Oswald, then general manager of Arkansas’ electric co-op statewide organization, recalled that major historic event, which took place in the autumn of 1937 one mile north of Jacksonville on U.S. 67. Installed by First Electric Cooperative, it marked the beginning of the transformation of rural Arkansas. Oswald noted that a sign on the pole read: “The first electric cooperative pole in an electric distribution system of proposed lines throughout the rural areas to improve living conditions in rural Arkansas.”
By 1967, he noted that 18 electric co-ops had been created in Arkansas, including Craighead Electric Co-op, and 45,000 miles of line had been built to serve “160,000 residents, industries, agriculture and recreational facilities in 62 percent of the geographic area of Arkansas that has been assigned to them by the Public Service Commission during the past 30 years.”
In addition to "the lights,” Oswald said the electric co-ops helped provide power for “refrigeration, food freezing, cooking, radio and TV, air conditioning — both cooling and heating — running water, irrigation, gins, crop drying, tourist facilities and boat docks, factories and many, many other uses that demanded abundant and dependable power sources for these electric cooperatives and at stable rates.”
One of those dependable power sources was the John L. McClellan power plant at Camden. In his November 1967 column, Oswald proudly announced that ground had been broken for the 125,000-kilowatt generating station on Oct. 19, 1967. The plant, named for then Arkansas U.S. Sen. John L. McClellan, was the third-generation station built and owned by Arkansas’ electric co-ops. It went online in 1971 and remains an important part of the electric co-ops’ generation portfolio today.
At the time, Oswald noted that the McClellan plant would specifically meet the needs of members of Riceland Electric Co-op (now part of First Electric), C & L Electric Co-op, Ashley-Chicot Electric Co-op, Ouachita Electric Co-op, South Central Arkansas Electric Co-op and Southwest Arkansas Electric Co-op. The other co-op plants, the Thomas B. Fitzhugh plant at Ozark and the Carl E. Bailey plant at Augusta, served co-op members in the central and northern half of the state.
A true visionary, Oswald saw that the work of the electric co-ops was far from finished.
“... here demonstrates and proves the basic fact that if we stick together in the future, support our leaders as we have during the past 30 years, we will, in 1997, have available for the prosperity and better way of life for our sons and daughters, a dependable and abundant source of this essential energy," he wrote.
The co-ops and their members met that challenge in 1997 and are still meeting it today.
Arkansas’ electric co-ops have stuck together, and we are stronger than ever, serving more than a million members in Arkansas and surrounding states. This is a mammoth accomplishment that has transformed Arkansas’ economy. It has made the lives of Arkansans, especially in rural areas, easier and better.
It is with sincere gratitude that we look forward to serving you for many more decades to come. Happy Thanksgiving from all of us at Craighead Electric Cooperative.