Central Electric Cooperative Celebrates 85 Years
Can you imagine having to heat water on a stove to bathe? Or paying 10 cents for a gallon of gas? Well, that is what life was like when Central Electric Cooperative (CEC) got its start back in 1937 – 85 years ago! One thing hasn’t changed though, and that is delivering safe, reliable, affordable electricity remains the core of CEC’s identity and, in today’s perpetually plugged-in world, it has become ever more important.
As CEC celebrates its 85th anniversary, it is a great time to take a look back – and a look forward.
CEC was founded when neighbors worked together to bring electricity to our rural communities. Big investor-owned power companies believed they couldn’t generate enough profit, so they bypassed rural areas. In 1930, 70 percent of homes in the United States had power. Rural areas, however, only had about 10 percent of homes with electricity – and our area was not part of the 10 percent. These numbers are what pushed President Franklin D. Roosevelt to sign the Rural Electrification Act of 1936, which provided allotments and provisions for each state to start electrifying their rural areas.
On July 12, 1937, CEC’s five founders met at their attorney’s office in Kittanning and signed the official incorporation notice for CEC – originally called Central Pennsylvania Rural Electric Cooperative Company, changed to Central Electric Cooperative in 1938. And this began CEC’s journey to provide electricity to our rural areas.
It Takes People
Throughout this rural electrification journey, many people were involved. The five men who officially founded CEC were: William P. Snyder of West Monterey, Clarion County; F.W. MacDonald of Nickleville, Venango County; R.C. Dickson of Slippery Rock, Butler County; C.T. Smith of Kittanning, Armstrong County; and Clarence H. Smith of Parker, Armstrong County. They started CEC with just a few members and went above and beyond to help the co-op grow. There is even a story that Mr. Snyder used his personal farm as collateral to help CEC get approval from the Rural Electric Administration. These five gentlemen had to take care of every detail when things were getting started. From hiring staff and recruiting members, to buying the furniture needed for the original co-op office (which was two desks and eight chairs that they purchased used from a coal company for $55).
A gentleman named William McDanel is also considered to be a pioneer of CEC. When he heard of the counties forming to start an electric cooperative, he began campaigning in Butler County. He made it his job to convince people the co-op had the power to work if they would stand behind it. McDanel said, “We could have wonderful things if we could see it through together.” He officially became a CEC member when he paid his membership fee to join the co-op on Sept. 14, 1937. Mr. McDanel then joined CEC’s Board of Directors in 1938. He served on the board until 1976 and is credited as being instrumental with the structure of the Pennsylvania Rural Electric Association (PREA) – an organization designed to unite the co-ops of Pennsylvania to achieve common goals; the creation of Allegheny Electric Cooperative – a power rate organization to help Pennsylvania co-ops with wholesale power purchasing; the building of Allegheny Electric Cooperative’s own generating facility to further aide with wholesale power purchasing; and the agreement between Allegheny Electric Cooperative and the Niagara Power Project, which opened up a wealth of hydroelectric power to Pennsylvania co-ops.
Many exciting things have happened in CEC’s 85 years. Some of these cannot go unmentioned.
The first member to receive electricity from CEC was Mr. Pierce Shakley on Aug. 18, 1938. He lived in Fredericksburg, Perry Township, Armstrong County. This occurred after power finally flowed from CEC’s substation in Petrolia. Members in Armstrong, Butler, Clarion, Forest, and Venango counties were the next members to enjoy electricity for the very first time -- thanks to their electric co-op.
CEC is credited with a few firsts for electric co-ops in the state of Pennsylvania. The first of these being for the use of two-way radios for communication between field staff and CEC’s office. This occurred in the Petrolia area in 1948.
Another first CEC is credited with, is using helicopters for linework. In 1969, CEC used a helicopter to set 25 poles in an impossible-to-reach area in Moraine State Park.
As CEC is a cooperative, an annual meeting of the members is required. CEC’s first annual meeting was held on Aug. 9, 1938, in a high school auditorium in Parker – Parkers Landing. In 1939 the annual meeting was held at Whitehall Camp and Conference Center in Emlenton. Then from 1940 to 1953, the annual meeting’s location rotated between high school auditoriums and a local theatre. In 1954, the event went back to Whitehall Camp and Conference Center where it was held until 2020 when it was canceled due to COVID-19 – well, except for one meeting in 1962 that was held at CEC’s office. At the peak of their interest, these annual meetings would see around 5,000 people. In 2019, CEC had approximately 1,500 attendees. Every year attendees enjoy director voting, entertainment, prizes, food, and more! CEC hopes to bring back an in-person event in 2023.
Fast forward to today – and tomorrow. CEC is still not your typical electric utility. Electric cooperatives are built by, and belong to, the communities they serve. They are led by members from the community and are, still today, uniquely suited to meet local needs. CEC currently serves over 25,000 members and has returned almost $24 million to members via capital credits to date. Capital credits reflect each member’s ownership in CEC and are the returned margins or revenues CEC has in relation to the sale of electric service remaining after all expenses have been paid.
CEC is still a local, not-for-profit electric cooperative. It doesn’t have customers; it has member-owners and membership is a powerful thing. This means CEC is owned by you – the members. It means you have an energy partner you can trust to look out for you.
CEC understands the spirit that helped create the co-op must be continually nurtured. While times and technology will continue to change, CEC’s commitment to you will not. In other words, it’s not simply about delivering power; it’s about recognizing and meeting members’ goals. CEC hopes you view them as a trusted energy partner and make them your first stop whenever you have a question about energy efficiency, renewables, or any other information.
As CEC continues to look toward the future, you can be confident that CEC will remain committed to exploring new ways to help our members and our communities.
Please see click here to learn about what CEC is doing to celebrate its 85th anniversary.
Central Electric Cooperative, Inc. is a Touchstone Energy Cooperative serving approximately 25,000 members with over 3,000 miles of distribution line in portions of Allegheny, Armstrong, Butler, Clarion, Forest, Mercer, and Venango counties.