In 1935, less than 11% of all American farms had high line electric service available or any prospects of obtaining it at any time soon at a cost they could pay. In Woodbury County there were between two and three thousand farms without such service.
Recognizing this outstanding weakness in an otherwise great industrial nation, congress in 1936, through the Rural Electrification Act, attempted to find a solution to this problem. The act created a government agency called the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). REA made funds available on a loan basis, repayable over a period of years at interest, to private power companies, municipalities, cooperatives or other organizations who would use the funds to build power lines in rural areas that had no other source of central station electric service available.
It was assumed that these funds would be used largely by the then existing power companies to extend their rural service. However, few of them took advantage of the opportunity, probable because they doubted the potential for business in the area.
Finally a group of farmers in Indiana became disgusted with the lethargy and decided they were going to have the advantages of electricity on their farm even if they had to build the lines themselves, which they did. These farmer groups forming rural electric cooperatives and building their electric systems with the REA funds.
This idea spread like wildfire and today there are nearly 1,000 of these free enterprise rural electric cooperatives. Woodbury County Rural Electric Cooperative is one of these.
Woodbury County REC obtained its first loan from REA in 1938. The loan was to fund the building of 125 miles of line to serve some 250 members. The original incorporators were Clarence Brown, A.S. Wendel, Loyd Baker, N.W. Topf, Alfred Molstad, Leon Strawn, Oscar Petersen, B.J. Topf, Merle Reed, George Mohrhauser, Ross Spencer, E.J. Brassfield, T. C. Armstrong and Edward Brown, Jr.
Articles of Incorporation were drawn up and were approved by the Secretary of State on July 19, 1938. The cooperative was then a legal entity as a private corporation under the laws of the state of Iowa.
On the 23rd day of July, 1938, the incorporators met to elect a Board of Directors as representatives of the members and to guide the course of the cooperative. Those elected were C.L. Brown, Merle Reed, A.S. Wendel, Loyd Baker, Ross Spencer, N.W. Topf and George Mohrhauser. The first meeting of the board was held that day and the following officers were elected: Brown, President; Mohnrhauser, Vice-President; Reed, Secretary and Wendel, Treasurer.
Plans were then formulated for the building of the first section of line. On March 9, 1939, the board employed Dale Schreiner as Project Superintendent and later named him General Manager.
The first contract for construction was let in the spring of 1939 to the Hoak Construction Company of Des Moines. The entire system was then served from one substation located about one mile east of Moville on highway 20. The office of the Cooperative was established at Moville, where it still remains, and the first of the line was energized on November 30, 1939. Wholesale power was purchased from the Iowa Public Service Company.
With the reality of power now available in the rural areas, the cooperative was besieged with applications to extend the service. Hardly had the first section been completed when a new contract was let for an additional one hundred miles. This expansion continued until 1942 when World War II practically stopped all further building. During this period, from 1942 to 1946, the manager was given leave of absence to serve with the U.S. Engineer District Office in Omaha. During that time, George Rice of Mapleton, the system attorney, took over as acting manager. In 1946, the regular manager returned and expansion continued as material became available.
In 1956, power became available on a wholesale basis from the Bureau of Reclaimation; this power was brought to the substation near Hinton, Iowa. Woodbury REC together with ten other rural electric cooperatives in Northwest Iowa formed the Northwest Iowa Power Cooperative (NIPCO). NIPCO was incorporated and borrowed funds from REA to build some 750 miles of 69,000 volt transmission line from the Bureau substation to serve the eleven member cooperatives. This resulted in a material reduction in wholesale power costs.
Woodbury County Rural Electric Cooperative has approximately 1,123 miles of line serving 3,247 meters. The operation is strictly non-profit. Any revenues over and above the actual cost of delivering the power to their members is pro-rated back to these members on the basis of business done with the Cooperative. To date the Cooperative has paid out over $3.2 million in capital credits to the membership. Today, Woodbury RECs total electric system is worth about $20.7 million.
Although most of the county is now served, Woodbury County REC is in an area of steady growth. This growth is from new business and housing moving into the metro Sioux City, Iowa area. Because of the areas growth, Woodbury County REC must continually upgrade and expand its electric system to meet these needs. The work of rural electric cooperatives will never be completed.