Capital Electric Cooperative celebrates 75 years

old photo of annual meeting

This year, Capital Electric Cooperative (CEC) celebrates 75 years of serving its members. Founded in 1945 by 129 farmers who wanted to bring power to the prairie, CEC has come a long way from its humble beginnings. Today, the co-op provides affordable, reliable power to more than 18,000 members along 2,700 miles of distribution line.

In recognition of this milestone, we take a look back on the accomplishments of the last 75 years.

1940s

• Capital Electric Cooperative was the name chosen by 129 area farmers at meeting held on March 28, 1945, to form an electric cooperative. The farmers submitted an application with a $5 membership fee and committed to purchasing at least $7.50 worth of electricity each month for the first year. The co-op was organized, and articles of incorporation were filed on Sept. 11, 1945.

• CEC’s Board of Directors met for the first time in the office of the Burleigh County agent in Bismarck, Aug. 4, 1945. Directors were paid $3 per meeting and five cents per mile.

• In June 1946, the Rural  Electrification Administration (REA) in Washington, D.C., approved the first loan of $425,000 for CEC. The co-op had signed up 437 initial consumers who would be served by 103.5 miles of line.

• In September 1948, the Menoken substation was energized, and power began flowing through CEC’s lines. The first member to receive power was John H. Salter, Menoken, on Sept. 14, 1948.

• Central Power Electric Cooperative was incorporated in 1949 with CEC and seven other distribution cooperatives as members.

1950s

• At the end of its first five years of operation, CEC had grown to a utility serving 1,400 farm families. This included 1,300 miles of distribution line in Burleigh County and the southern 10 townships in Sheridan County.

• The first issue of the North Dakota Rural Electric Magazine, which included the center pages for CEC, was issued in July 1954. • In March 1955, CEC moved into a new, one-story brick office building at 722 Airport Road in Bismarck.

1960s

• In 1961, CEC began holding Rural Area Development (RAD) meetings in its service area. RAD was a self-help program offered to towns of 2,500 or less. The goal was to help small towns survive.

• On April 21, 1961, CEC was hit by a sleet storm, which cost the co-op $8,000 in damages.

• CEC signed its first power agreement with Basin Electric Power Cooperative in June 1964. Basin Electric was formed to supply electric cooperatives in an eight-state region.

• CEC connected the 100th fully electric home in its service area in February 1965. The home, which was located east of Bismarck, belonged to H.T. Fredrickson.

• In the late 1960s, CEC added its first bucket truck to its fleet.

• The co-op continued to grow. In 1968, CEC received a $667,000 loan for construction of three new substations and 43 miles of transmission line to feed those substations. Also in 1968, CEC invested more than $25,000 in construction of a double-circuit line from the Lincoln substation near Bismarck to a new Mary College site.

1970s

• In April 1970, many areas of the country were facing the prospect of having brownouts or blackouts, as the nation’s power companies struggled to keep up with a surging demand for energy. In CEC’s service area, Basin Electric told members to “use all the power you want in this ‘brownout’ summer.” The power supplier had planned far enough  ahead and had ample capacity to meet the area’s generation needs. At the time, loads for rural electric cooperatives (RECs) were growing by 8% to 9% each year.

• In 1970, CEC delivered power to nearly 2,000 member-owners along 1,700 miles of distribution line. The co-op operated nine substations.

• In December 1972, CEC and Montana-Dakota Utilities (MDU) completed a joint construction project, installing a giant 40,000 KVA transformer at MDU’s substation east of Bismarck. The transformer weighed 126,000 pounds and cost $106,000. A transmission line was built to the east Bismarck substation for interconnection.

• Substations were built in McClusky and Goodrich in 1975.

• The co-op was hit by an ice storm on Dec. 16, 1977. The damage cost $125,000.

• By 1978, CEC was serving 4,700 members across 1,800 miles of line.

1980s

• Two CEC lineworkers, Gordy Wiese and Larry Wittmayer, received Good Samaritan awards for saving the lives of a couple that was severely injured in a car accident near Bismarck.

• At CEC’s 1981 annual meeting, the original mortgage for $425,000 was ceremoniously burned to commemorate the mortgage being paid in full.

• In March 1983, ice collapsed CEC’s 220-foot radio tower. Lines were coated with two inches of ice, and numerous poles were broken. One year later, on April 27, 1984, winter struck again. A late April blizzard broke more than 100 poles.

• In February 1986, CEC lost a transmission line in an ice storm, and 2,500 members found themselves without power.

1990s

• In 1990, CEC began offering a pay-by-bank program. Pay-bybank allowed members to use their checking or savings account to set up automatic payments for their energy bill.

• The membership elected the co-op’s first female board member, Arlene Olson, in 1991. Olson still serves as a board member today.

• In 1994, CEC said good-bye to its yellow vehicles, changing the color to white.

• The co-op celebrated 10 years of stable rates at its 1995 annual meeting.

2000s

• In 2007, the North Dakota Supreme Court heard a case involving CEC’s dispute with MDU regarding the Boulder Ridge Development. Without a written service area agreement, new developments were being served by either CEC or MDU based on
nearby services. Boulder Ridge was built in an area that bordered both utilities’ service areas. CEC would eventually win this dispute and serve the development. The result was a 20-year service area agreement with MDU.

• In 2008, CEC expanded its headquarters building, adding additional offices, a new hospitality room and a new lobby area. A service center building was also added to allow for storage of vehicles and other equipment/supplies.

2010s

• Mother Nature dealt the co-op a heavy blow on April 2, 2010, snapping 536 poles and causing hundreds of wire breaks and wire raps. This storm resulted in severe damage to the western half of CEC’s system, mainly on the east–west running distribution lines. Damages exceeded $1.3 million.

• With more than 1,000 members in the path of the historic 2011 flood, CEC line crews worked around the clock to maintain power. The Bismarck/Mandan communities pulled together to fill countless sandbags and support those in danger of losing their homes. At CEC, coffer dams were used to pump out and replace transformer connectors to keep power flowing. Damage from the flood was $725,000. The co-op replaced 296 transformers during the weather event.

• CEC transferred its transmission assets to Central Power Electric Cooperative in a full consolidation in 2014. As an original member of the transmission cooperative, CEC was the only member to hold onto its substations and transmission lines. The decision was made for financial viability reasons.

• CEC started the Peak Time Rebate (PTR) program to encourage its members to reduce their electric usage during expected peak times. The co-op’s monthly demand charges were resulting in higher rates, so changes were necessary to reduce costs and save members money. Email and text notifications are utilized to inform members of upcoming peaks. Rebates are paid on a biannual basis.

• In June, 2019, CEC and the North Dakota Department of Transportation held the first Electric Vehicle Tailgate Party at the North Dakota State Capitol grounds. Attendees got an up-close look at electric vehicles (EVs) and had the opportunity to visit with EV owners. CEC's all-electric Chevrolet Bolt, which the co-op leased in 2018, was among the cars featured.

2020s

• Having outgrown its current headquarters facility, CEC acquired the building and land located at 7401 Yukon Drive in Bismarck in February 2020. Positioned along the two highways most traveled by the co-op’s lineworkers — Highway 1804 and Highway 83 — the future location of CEC’s headquarters is located away from areas of congested urban traffic, making it more accessible to members, contractors and employees. CEC plans to relocate to the new facility in 2022.

• As COVID-19 made its appearance in the spring of 2020, CEC closed its office to members and sent most of its employees home. By June 1, most employees had returned. The pandemic also impacted the co-op’s 2020 annual meeting, which, for the first time ever, was held without co-op members in attendance.

• In December 2020, CEC installed the first automatic transfer switch on its system. Installed near the University of Mary, the switch will automatically transfer the power source for the University in the event of an outage on the normal source.

• In July 2021, CEC began delivering power to the first public EV fast charger in its service area.

CEC is proud of these accomplishments, which would not be possible without the hard work and dedication of co-op members and employees, past and present. The co-op looks forward to providing its members with the same reliable and affordable service for another 75 years.

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