Electric power associations are a unique form of electric utility, serving about half of Mississippi’s electric meters. Each electric power association is a not-for-profit cooperative owned and governed by the consumers it serves. Consumers become members of the cooperative by paying a membership fee and applying for electric service.
Twenty-six electric power associations provide electricity to more than 1.6 million Mississippians, with service to more than 731,000 electric meters through some 90,800 miles of energized lines. Their combined service territories comprise about 85 percent of the state’s land mass. With one exception, all of the electric power associations are distribution cooperatives—that is, they purchase wholesale electricity for distribution to residential, commercial, and industrial members. South Mississippi Electric Power Association, however, is a generation and transmission cooperative, the wholesale power provider for eleven electric power associations serving South Mississippi and the Delta. Fourteen electric power associations serving central and northeastern Mississippi purchase wholesale power from the Tennessee Valley Authority.
Electric power associations grew from grassroots efforts initiated by rural Mississippians—mostly subsistence farmers—in the mid-1930s. At the time, electricity was available to less than 1 percent of Mississippi’s farms and only 10 percent nationwide. Farm families labored without electric water pumps, augers, washing machines, lights, or fans. Farmers milked cows before sunrise by the light of kerosene lanterns. The lack of electricity deterred economic growth and escape from a substandard quality of life. With no running water or refrigeration, rural Mississippians suffered high rates of illnesses associated with poor sanitation and bacteria in perishable foods. Investor-owned electric utilities serving cities and towns were unwilling to extend service to sparsely populated rural areas because of the high costs associated with construction and the probability of a low return on investment.
Prospects for rural electrification improved when Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt became interested in encouraging farmers to form pools to buy power at affordable rates. To that end, he created the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in 1935 and signed the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. The REA spurred farmers to begin forming not-for-profit electric cooperatives to take advantage of the agency’s low-cost loans to finance construction of electrical distribution facilities. The REA also provided technical and managerial guidance to farmers inexperienced in running electric utilities.
Mississippi was an early leader in America’s rural electrification. The nation’s first rural electric cooperative, the Alcorn County Electric Power Association, was an experimental project established by the Tennessee Valley Authority in Corinth in 1934. The following year Amory’s Monroe County Electric Power Association became the first electric cooperative to secure an REA loan and begin operations.
Today’s electric power association members include residential developments, shopping centers, industrial parks, hospitals, agricultural enterprises, military bases, and schools. Electric power associations have expanded their services to include economic development efforts, youth programs, electrical safety education, energy management, and community projects. Electric power associations serve an average of only eight consumers per mile of line, compared to the national average of thirty-two for investor-owned utilities and forty-one for municipal-operated systems.
Through membership in the Electric Power Associations of Mississippi, electric power associations share costs and labor associated with emergency power restoration, government relations, employee training, job safety, loss control, economic development, and other services. The organization also produces Today in Mississippi, a monthly with the largest circulation of any publication in the state.
- D. Clayton Brown, Electricity for Rural America: The Fight for the REA (1980)
- Richard Pence, ed., The Next Greatest Thing (1984)
- Winnie Ellis Phillips, Rural Electrification in Mississippi, 1934–1970 (1985)
- Amity Shlaes, The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007)