In 1939, forward-thinking citizens in the region celebrated years of research, planning and consultation with the official incorporation of the electric cooperative, La Plata Electric Association.
The first meeting of the incorporating directors was held in downtown Durango, where citizens had been enjoying the benefits of electricity since 1892 when Durango Light and Power Company, (and later the Western Colorado Power Company, which was eventually merged into LPEA) embraced the fledgling technology of alternating current (AC). Few urban residents believed that the rural parts of Southwest Colorado would ever be illuminated, due to the tremendous cost of extending lines and service to isolated farms and ranches.
Rural cooperatives across the country have a history of inventiveness and determination, working together to sustain communities and enhance the lives of the hard-working souls who were tough enough to “make it” outside of an urban hub. LPEA’s founding fathers (and mothers) were no less determined, and when spurred by the federal Rural Electrification Administration (REA), established in 1936 to provide loans explicitly to “shine the light” in rural areas, they came together to make La Plata Electric happen.
The first meeting of the cooperative was held August 22, 1939, and called to order at 8 p.m. at 854 Main Ave. in Durango. The original certificate of incorporation had been filed with the Secretary of State on August 16, 1939. On hand that fateful night were W.E. Tyner, the incorporating director selected as chairman, and incorporating directors J. Fred Hill, Frank Gray, Edna M. Coppuck, J.H. Durry, James F. Gore, George Morgan, E.E. Hively, Betty Stock and Mildred Laurie.
According to the detailed minutes of the meeting, preserved in LPEA’s archives, these rural citizens began the long process of establishing the basis for running the electric cooperative. This involved the details of membership, which initially was a $5 base charge to all members, although if a member requested more than one service connection, additional fees could be assessed. Agreeing to join the cooperative required that members purchase all their electricity from LPEA.
In later months, the incorporating directors deliberated on a site for the first headquarters – primarily a centralized construction office – and eventually selected Ignacio. LPEA entered into an Installation Loan Contract with the REA to fund construction of the system on August 10, 1940, and by the following February, the lines were energized and life was changed forever for rural families.
The first LPEA Annual Meeting was held September 2, 1941 at 813 Main Ave., which some will remember as the Kiva Theater, and “interesting” statistics (or so the minutes report) noted that the company was valued at $169,539.10 and enjoyed 348 members, who had an average consumption of $3.74 worth of electricity, distributed over 190 miles of line.
Today, LPEA now stretches across a 3,370 square mile service territory in La Plata and Archuleta, with portions of Hinsdale, Mineral and San Juan counties, and maintains 3,606 miles of distribution and transmission line, plus 33 substations. This provides service to 40,701 meters, up from 40,341 in 2011.
In 2012, LPEA purchased from its generation company, Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, based in Westminster, Colo., 1,009,491,129 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power, plus 45,592,558 kWh from local renewable generators, for a total of 1,055,083,687 kWh of purchased power – down 36,799,420 kWh from 2011.
At the close of 2012, LPEA had approximately 1.8 megawatts of small scale, local renewable generation on local businesses and homes, producing power for those buildings, but interconnected to the electric grid. These systems are estimated to generate 3,000 megawatt hours of electricity annually.
The average residential monthly use decreased from 708 kWh in 2011 to 691 in 2012, which was reflected in the average monthly residential bill that went from $87.03 in 2011 to $83.87 in 2012.
La Plata Electric employs 103 full time employees, 84 in Durango and 19 in Pagosa Springs and paid property taxes of $940,378 in 2012 to five counties.
Back in the day, it hadn’t taken long for what had been envisioned as a way to improve the lives of rural residents to become a vital area enterprise – which LPEA remains today. As it always has, the cooperative continues to evolve, and indeed, many challenges lie ahead in the energy industry. The LPEA board and staff are prepared to meet these head-on, while maintaining the mission to provide members with safe, reliable electricity at the lowest reasonable cost, while being environmentally responsible.