Pointe Coupee Electric celebrates 75 years of service

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South

NEW ROADS - Many folks today can only imagine what it must have been like after dark on the farms, ranches and small towns of south Louisiana 75 years ago, before there was the convenience of electricity.

As any old-timer can attest, life was hard and unyielding. Most chores were done by hand without the benefit of electric pumps, appliances and lighting. But things changed after President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed an executive order in 1935 creating the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). Farmers, ranchers, families and local businesses all across America banded together to begin a movement that would bring light and prosperity to the countryside.

An integral part of that national movement was the creation of Pointe Coupee Electric. Born out of the can-do spirit of determined, independent-minded people in Iberville, West Baton Rouge and Pointe Coupee parishes, Pointe Coupee Electric was formed by people who understood the great possibilities that can be realized by working together, who had the courage and vision to do what the large power companies refused to do by taking it upon themselves to energize the countryside.

Seventy-five years ago, modern electric service was largely only a dream for rural citizens. While power lines built by private utility companies serving more densely populated communities ran right through their front yards, no amount of pleading could get them hooked up because there was no profit in serving sparsely settled rural areas.

For A.B. Curet, Pointe Coupee County Agent from 1916 until 1956, this was unacceptable. So when congress passed the Rural Electrification Act in 1936, authorizing low interest loans for power companies, public utilities or cooperatives that offered rural electrification, Curet asked the local power company to borrow funds to electrify rural Pointe Coupee Parish, but he was turned away.

Curet held an organizational meeting on June 8, 1938, at Henry P. Mounger’s store in Lettsworth where interested citizens met with an REA agent. As a result, Pointe Coupee Electric was chartered under state law. First directors were Mrs. Ruby Merrick, Ovide B. LaCour, Emile Jewell, J. P. Kemper, Mrs. Vione Rice, Harry H. Melancon and Alfred A. Robinson. Robinson, who would later serve as general manager, was appointed chairman of the board, which was authorized to apply to REA for loan funds.

Local leaders working with Curet solicited the required three members per mile of line to assure REA loan feasibility. This work was done by community volunteers, a feat made more difficult by the fact the U.S. was still in the Great Depression and many could not afford the $5 membership fee. At the first board meeting on Sept. 15, 1938, in the County Agent’s office in New Roads, 154 members signed up.

On Feb. 10, 1939, Pointe Coupee Electric received its first REA loan of $124,000 to build 105 miles of line to serve 505 members in or near the communities of Batchelor, Lettsworth, Torras, Jacoby, Coon, Labarre, Fordoche and Patin Dyke.

The first Annual Membership Meeting was held on Jan. 31, 1940, and the first board elected by members included J. Rene Patin, Harry H. Melancon, Ovide B. LaCour, J.P. Kemper, Mrs. Ruby Merrick, Alfred A. Robinson and Mrs. Vione Rice.

 “Our legacy is a part of the American story – people working together to chart their own course. And it’s something we’re very proud of,” said Pointe Coupee Electric General Manager Joseph H. “Jodie” Cotten.

The Pointe Coupee Electric began operating with three employees in an old wood-frame home on New Roads St. That first year (1939), members used an average of only 35 kWh a month at a cost of 8 cents per kWh. Today, members use an average of 1,200 kWh but still pay only about 8 cents per kWh, making its electric service just about the only consumer item costing about the same or less today as in 1939.

In 1940, the board offered members a resolution changing the utility from a corporation to a cooperative, which was unanimously approved. Lines were extended in 1941 to serve rural areas in West Baton Rouge and Iberville parishes.

In 1949, Pointe Coupee Electric purchased its warehouse in downtown New Roads and converted it to office space while also acquiring a building next door that was transformed into a complete warehouse. In 1971, that office was remodeled and continued to serve as headquarters until 1981 when the entire operation was relocated to 2506 False River Dr. By 1960, the cooperative was serving 3,700 members along 504 miles of line. Consumer energy usage averaged 144 kWh a month. The cooperative extended its lines to Bayou Sorrel, Bayou Pigeon, Rosedale and elsewhere as needed.

Rural consumers were becoming a major economic force, buying millions of dollars of appliances for homes and equipment for farms. Consumption of power climbed dramatically, fueled by energy demand for air conditioning and other comforts. By the 1990s, the average Pointe Coupee Electric member was using over 1,200 kWh per month. The cooperative today serves 7,775 members and 10,402 meters along 1,085 miles of line. Board members include Jimmy Ewing, Jr., president; Irvin E. Settoon, Sr., vice president; Ralph B. Chustz, Sr., secretary-treasurer; Al Ewing; George G. LaCour, Jr.; Peter Rumfola, Jr., and Alton B. Smith, Jr.

From three employees working out of a rented house in 1939, Pointe Coupee Electric now employs 45 people in a modern facility but still charges about the same rates today as 75 years ago.

With our 75th anniversary celebration coming up, Pointe Coupee Electric recognizes the success of the Rural Electric Cooperative movement which stands as a tribute to the support and efforts of its members, past and present. The management, board and staff invite all cooperative members to be a part of our upcoming three-day celebration. Mark your calendars for Sept. 4-6 between 8 a.m. - 3 p.m. when we will host our 75th anniversary celebration, weather permitting, on the front lawn of our headquarters at 2506 False River Dr., in New Roads.