By Kent Singer, Executive Director
Back in 1985, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association published a book titled The Next Greatest Thing to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the creation of the electric co-op program. The phrase “the next greatest thing” came from an oft-quoted passage from a sermon given in a Tennessee church in the early 1940s:
“Brothers and sisters, I want to tell you this. The greatest thing on earth is to have the love of God in your heart, and the next greatest thing is to have electricity in your house.”
The book published by NRECA told the story of the rural electrification program and the dramatic improvement in the quality of life that this program brought to rural America. It featured numerous pictures and narratives about life in rural America before electric power was available, stories that are difficult to comprehend for most Americans today.
Have you ever considered how clothes were washed and ironed before electricity powered washing machines and irons? It’s hard to imagine, but in rural America, women (and this backbreaking work was done mostly by women) would pump water from a well or cistern into large buckets, haul the buckets back to the house, heat water in a basin over a wood stove, scrub clothes with lye soap over a washboard, rinse the clothes in another basin, wring them out, dry them on a clothesline and then heat a 6-pound iron over the same wood stove to iron the clothes.
Hauling water, chopping firewood, preserving fruits and vegetables, milking cows by hand, reading by the dim light of a kerosene lamp: This was the life of millions of farm families before the rural electrification program finally brought electricity to the countryside. So when electricity came to rural America, it changed people’s lives, freeing them from the drudgery of many day-to-day tasks and enabling them to lead more productive, enjoyable and healthier lives. Of the many New Deal programs initiated by President Franklin Roosevelt, the rural electrification program was undoubtedly the most successful in improving and transforming the lives of millions of Americans.
But while Colorado’s electric co-ops are proud of our past, we understand that we live in a world that asks, “What have you done for me lately?” In other words, it’s not good enough that we have electrified rural Colorado over the last 80 years. Today, we also have to understand that co-op consumer-members expect more options, more communication and more innovation from their electricity provider.
Whether that means advanced metering infrastructure, rooftop solar or robust energy efficiency programs, the consumer-members of Colorado’s electric co-ops expect today’s co-ops to think differently about how they provide power. Co-op consumer-members have more choices in their daily lives, and they expect their electric co-op to provide choices, too.
This is nothing new for Colorado’s electric co-ops. We were the first electric utilities in Colorado to deploy automated meters to enable two-way communication between the co-op and the consumer-member, improving reliability and advancing distributed generation. We were the first electric utilities in Colorado to establish community solar gardens to benefit low-income residents. We were also the first to create “roundup” programs where consumer-members can round up their bill to the next dollar and use the money to help their neighbors.
We’ve done all these things because that’s the cooperative way. We exist not to make a profit, but to power communities and empower the lives of our consumer-members. To that end, Colorado’s electric co-ops will always seek to find “the next greatest thing.