Clarke-Washington EMC is a cooperative form of business owned by its member-owners. The member-owners govern and set policy for CWEMC through a nine-member board of directors. Members of the board of directors help develop policies for the operations of the cooperative. The general manager and his staff carry out the day-to-day management of the cooperatives.
The cooperative is a distribution cooperative serving members in Clarke and Washington counties, and portions of Wilcox and Monroe counties in southwest Alabama. The cooperative owns 20,007 meters on some 4,152 miles of line.
Over 80 years of dedicated service
In July of 1937, a new day dawned in better living conditions and a pathway toward progress for thousands of people living in the rural areas of Clarke and Washington counties and surrounding areas.
The newly organized Clarke-Washington Electric Membership Corporation activated its first lines and turned on the electric lights in rural areas, which had long been denied the conveniences of electricity. It was a historic moment in many ways. And it was the climax of several years of hard work by farsighted community leaders in this area.
Less than 10 percent of the rural homes in Alabama had electricity at the time, and the percentage in Clarke and Washington Counties was even lower than the statewide average. Light for reading was supplied by kerosene lamps. Today’s modern household appliances were unknown to the average rural home and on the farm.
Acting to meet the need for rural electric service across the nation, the federal government took action. On May 11, 1935, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order, which created the Rural Electrification Administration. REA, as the new agency was known, would lend power companies low interest money to erect poles, install transformers, and extend the lines into rural areas.
In many cases, they said they could not make a profit for their stockholders by supplying electricity in rural areas where they would have fewer customers per mile of line than in the cities and towns.
First electric cooperative in Alabama
And so, rural people formed their own cooperatives and borrowed money from the REA to construct and operate their own power systems. The first of these rural electric cooperatives to be organized in Alabama was Clarke-Washington Electric Membership Corporation.
It was organized March 2, 1936 in Coffeeville, with the following serving as incorporators:
- Joe C. McCorquodale, Sr., of Salipta, President
- Ben Glover, of Leroy, Vice President
- C.R. Myrick, of Coffeeville, Secretary-Treasurer
- R.S. McNeil, of St. Stephens
- H.E. Langlois, of Suggsville
As initial organizational work proceeded to complete the formation of the cooperative, these men making up the first board of trustees met in Coffeeville, and adopted the first bylaws of the corporation.
CWEMC faces challenges
Their first challenge was to get people to sign up for membership in the cooperative. During the next few months, these men and other community leaders reunited to help with the project. These leaders traveled the muddy and dusty roads of Clarke and Washington counties talking to people about the cooperative and asking them to pay a $5 membership fee and sign up for electricity. It was a tough job and many people were suspicious of the whole idea and didn’t want to risk $5 in such a venture, but gradually they began to visualize what it would mean to them and interest started picking up.
First REA loan in Alabama
On Sept. 5, 1936, CWEMC received the first Rural Electric Administration loan in the state of Alabama for building rural electric lines. The $65,000 loan enabled the fledgling cooperative to start installing lines and other facilities necessary to begin serving its members. The first pole was set just south of Salipta, near Beckham’s Landing in July of 1937, and soon the first lines were energized.
CWEMC grows rapidly
Initially, the cooperative served just 83 members with 79.2 miles of line, but it began to grow rapidly, and by January of 1938, there were 165 member-customers receiving power from the cooperative.
The cooperative had no headquarters facility, and it was first operated out of the Coffeeville home of C.R. Myrick, the first secretary-treasurer. At a special meeting, June 1, 1938, the board of trustees voted to move the office from Coffeeville to Jackson, because Jackson was a more central location. A building was rented and the records were moved in a shoebox.
World War II arrived and brought a shortage of materials. Through the years of the war, the cooperative struggled to get material to build the lines, which people in the rural areas were clamoring for. After the war ended, an accelerated construction program was accomplished. By 1950, the cooperative was serving 4,956 customers with 1,683 miles of lines.
As it celebrates 83 years of service, CWEMC serves approximately 20,007 meters on some 4,152 miles of line in Clarke and Washington counties and portions of Wilcox and Monroe counties.
“Service First” is prime objective
CWEMC is presently engaged in a work plan, which involves upgrades and improvements to provide better service all over the system. This work plan is being implemented without an increase in rates. “Service First,” has always been the prime objective of CWEMC, and the cooperative continues every possible effort to serve its members while providing them with all the electricity they want and need, when and where they want it, dependably and at the lowest possible rates.
The entire distribution system continues to utilize the latest state-of-the-art equipment. Lines are kept clear with an extensive right of way clearance and tree-trimming program and, as demand grows, lines are upgraded and capacity is increased to effectively handle the extra load. CWEMC has one of the best outage records of any cooperative in the area, despite the many heavily forested sections of its service area.
Today, rural residents in every part of the CWEMC service area have access to electricity, and with it the same living conveniences which their city neighbors enjoy, and they’re using more and more electricity every year.
The first year of operation, each CWEMC customer average use was only 30-kilowatt hours per month. Back then, most families had a single drop cord in each room, and that was all the electricity they used.
Throughout its 80-year history, CWEMC leaders have not been content just to provide electricity and the higher living standards and conveniences it makes possible. The cooperative has been in the forefront of many efforts to help assure that the residents of this area have every available program to enhance their comfort and safety.
Looking to the future, CWEMC is poised and ready to serve the increasing demands for electrical service, which our growing area seems sure to need. No longer is the cooperative a vision in the minds of progressive and farsighted community leaders, it is now an established and proven system, serving us well.
Thus, while cooperative leaders look back with thankfulness and pride on CWEMC’s years of dedicated service, they are also looking ahead toward brighter days and even higher levels of service.
Clarke-Washington EMC is an equal opportunity provider and employer. In accordance with Federal civil rights law and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) civil rights regulations and policies, the USDA, its Agencies, offices, and employees, and institutions participating in or administering USDA programs are prohibited from discriminating based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, gender identity (including gender expression), sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, family/parental status, income derived from a public assistance program, political beliefs, or reprisal or retaliation for prior civil rights activity, in any program or activity conducted or funded by USDA (not all bases apply to all programs). Remedies and complaint filing deadlines vary by program or incident.Persons with disabilities who require alternative means of communication for program information (e.g., Braille, large print, audiotape, American Sign Language, etc.) should contact the responsible Agency or USDA’s TARGET Center at (202)720-2600 (voice and TTY) or contact USDA through the Federal Relay Service at (800)877-8339. Additionally, program information may be made available in languages other than English.To file a program discrimination complaint, complete the USDA Program Discrimination Complaint Form, AD-3027, found online at http://www.ascr.usda.qov/complaint filing cust.html and at any USDA office or write a letter addressed to USDA and provide in the letter all of the information requested in the form. To request a copy of the complaint form, call (866) 632-9992. Submit your completed form or letter to USDA by:(1) mail: U.S. Department of AgricultureOffice of the Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights1400 Independence Avenue, SWWashington, D.C. 20250-9410;(2) fax: (202) 690-7442; or(3) email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
USDA is an equal opportunity provider, employer and lender.