A bit of co-op history is found

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old pole

The history of rural electrification in South Carolina had a starting point in 1935.  That was the year the state’s General Assembly approved legislation that led to the establishment of the South Carolina Rural Electrification Authority (SCREA). At that point in time, fewer than three percent of the state’s farms were receiving central-station electric power.  Almost immediately, the SCREA entered into a relationship with the newly formed Rural Electrification Administration (REA) in Washington. 

With loan funds provided by the federal REA, the state authority soon began the process of extending power lines into the vast, unserved areas of the Palmetto State.  Before long, however, it became apparent that the SCREA had grown too large and unwieldy to be administered from Columbia.  Long story short, the General Assembly took action that divided the state’s land area into separate districts.  Ultimately, those districts were organized into the 20 locally owned electric-distribution cooperatives that, at present, serve around 1,600,000 S.C. citizens.

1,680 metered accounts inherited

Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative had its organizational beginning in 1940, and inherited 1,680 metered accounts from the SCREA.  Building upon that base, the Blue Ridge membership has climbed beyond 66,000 today. 

That brings us to a special story that unfolded in March of this year.  It seems a Blue Ridge crew was at work on a line-conversion project in Oconee County’s Oak Grove School community.  When upgrading a single-phase line to three phase, most if not all of the existing poles would need to be changed out.  Taller, heavier poles would be installed to support the added crossarms, hardware, and cables that constitute a three-phase line.

The Oak Grove School line had seen regular maintenance through the years.  However, it had remained a single-phase line for all that time.  Finally, the area’s electrical load had increased to the point that the co-op’s Engineering Work Plan mandated this particular system-improvement project.

An old 35-foot wood pole

Long time Blue Ridge lineman, Richard Barnett, now retired, had grown up in this part of Oconee County, and his father had attended the Oak Grove School as a boy.  He had been watching the work progress, telling the cooperative’s vice president of operations, Sam McMillan, about some of the poles that were still in use.  As the poles were being replaced, Sam was called to the scene of this line work.  There he was confronted with an old 35-foot wood pole that had been branded with a surprising number: “37”.  That number, also known as a birthmark, identified the year in which the pole had been manufactured.  That’s right, 1937! This pole had held the transformer that served the Oak Grove School all those years ago. Less than a week later, this same crew ran across a second 1937-dated pole!


old pole

Leaning on the pole it was cut from, this portion of the original bears the "37" birthmark. This pole served the Oak Grove School and surrounding community for 82 years.


These poles had been set 82 years ago by a crew employed by the old S.C. Rural Electrification Authority; in other words, a full three years before Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative was chartered.  In addition, the poles had been equipped with steel, as opposed to copper, ground wires.  Furthermore, the two poles were in good enough condition to have remained in service.  They were removed only because larger poles were necessary to take their place.

Blue Ridge President and CEO Jim Lovinggood wondered aloud if there might be other such timbers among the more than 110,000 poles on the cooperative’s system.  “I find it simply remarkable that we’ve encountered these well-preserved specimens.  We’re going to have to consider ways to display these items as a means of adding more narrative to the telling of our co-op’s story.”  Members of the cooperative’s marketing have already begun contemplating the possibilities.