Why Rural Electrification Associations are Coops
All Rural Electrification Associations (REAs) in Alberta, including Battle River Power Coop, are Cooperatives. In the time before electrification, REAs were one of three options for power delivery to Alberta farms. The Alberta Power Commission proposed that the assets of corporate investor-owned utilities (IOUs) be combined to create a provincial, publicly owned utility. The IOUs were not in favor of this. They were also not keen on the second option, that IOUs should install the infrastructure and provide rural Alberta with power. The result was that rural farmers were encouraged to form REAs following the Rural Electric Cooperative model successfully operating in the rural United States. The plan, or third option, was that small rural cooperatives would raise money and install the poles and wires to power their farms. Afterwards, REAs would rely on corporate power companies for maintenance, service and billing.
After much debate, the Alberta Government turned the decision over to the electorate. A plebiscite was held in 1948 which asked voters to choose between public and private ownership. Private ownership won by the narrowest of margins. The Alberta Government then joined with the IOUs in promoting the formation of farmer-owned cooperatives called REAs. Small groups of farmers gathered together, met in members’ homes, contributed start-up money and borrowed more from the government. Many farmers worked on the power line crews. In a remarkably short time, they accomplished a seemingly impossible task. They brought electricity to almost all of rural Alberta.
Fast forward to the present day, and we find a much smaller and very diverse group of REAs in our province. Some REAs still exist in their original form. Others, like Battle River Power Coop, have amalgamated to take advantage of economies of scale, and now do their own operations. All REAs have a Board of Directors elected from the membership and REA members collectively - and cooperatively - own their electric distribution systems. This happened because a selfless and determined generation of rural Albertans wanted electricity and used Cooperatives as the means to get it.