Pointe Coupee Electric celebrates 75th anniversary

Staff Writer
Plaquemine Post South

NEW ROADS - The times have changed, but the mission remains the same.

Pointe Coupee Electric held a three-day celebration to commemorate the locally owned electric cooperative’s 75-year track record of serving the community.

According to General Manager J.H. “Jodie” Cotten, the organization is still focused on the same goals that were established when the cooperative was formed in 1938.

 “This is a great opportunity to celebrate everything this cooperative is about, how we’ve become a leader in service and in safety, how we were formed by - and are accountable to – our members, and what the co-op represents as a home-grown economic force in our community,” he said. “The principles under which we were formed remain as consequential, as significant and as applicable as they did 75 years ago.”

While the celebration included prize drawings, give-a-ways, complimentary lunches, music, safety demonstrations, energy efficiency information and more, Cotten said a special event was held to recognize the cooperative’s founding board members and employees.

The PCEMC board convened for the specific purpose of passing a resolution to officially commemorate both the anniversary and the seven founding board members: Mrs. Ruby Merrick, Ovide B. LaCour, Emile Jewell, J. P. Kemper, Mrs. Vione Rice, Harry H. Melancon and Alfred A. Robinson. Robinson, who was appointed chairman of the board, would later serve as general manager of the cooperative.

The special meeting was attended by former long-time employees as well as a number of state and local political figures and dignitaries, including New Roads Mayor Robert Myer, Sheriff Bud Torres, Louisiana Generating President Jennifer Vosburg and Louisiana Public Service Commissioner Scott Angelle.  Also attending the meeting was Mrs. Zel Grezaffi who is the oldest living former employee of Pointe Coupee Electric. Mrs. Grezaffi also worked for Cajun Electric when it was formed back in the 60’s.

Angelle briefly addressed the gathering and commended the cooperative for its growth and performance.

“I just want to congratulate the board, the management and the employees for doing such a fine job on behalf of your members,” Angelle said. “I rarely receive any complaints from Pointe Coupee Electric members, so that tells me you’re doing an outstanding job carrying out the responsibilities outlined in your original charter many years ago. You should be very proud of your success.”

Board members are 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.

Available for viewing at the anniversary celebration was an album containing old photos depicting the cooperative’s rise from a humble enterprise to a consumer-owned business that now serves 7,775 members and 10,402 meters along 1,085 miles of line.

The rural electric cooperative movement began when 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 in an effort to 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, PCEMC 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, PCEMC was chartered under state law.

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, PCEMC 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.

PCEMC 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 eight cents per kWh. Today, members use an average of 1,200 kWh but still pay only about eight cents per kWh, making PCEMC 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, PCEMC 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, PCEMC was serving 3,700 members along 504 miles of line. Consumer energy usage averaged 144 kWh a month. The Co-op 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 PCEMC member was using over 1,200 kWh per month.

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