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Central Georgia EMC marking 75 years

Co-op a fixture in community

The Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp.’s headquarters moved to South Mulberry Street in 1971.

The Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp.’s headquarters moved to South Mulberry Street in 1971.

When the Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp. charged its lines and began sending power to its first members, there were 329 customers on the system. The year was 1938, and the utility was part of a new and growing movement to bring electricity to rural parts of the United States under-served by investor-owned electric companies.

The co-operative was able to take out a loan of just over $200,000 to begin installing 200 miles of power lines in six counties, including Butts and Henry. Today, Central Georgia EMC sends power to nearly 51,000 billed accounts across more than 5,000 miles of lines in a service area that covers parts of 14 counties: Bibb, Butts, Clayton, Fayette, Henry, Jasper, Jones, Lamar, Monroe, Morgan, Newton, Pike, Putnam and Spalding.

And it is celebrating 75 years of providing electricity to customers who also own the company, which has been headquartered in Jackson since its founding.

“The cities, the developed areas, had electricity and the rural areas had no access to electricity,” George Weaver, president of Central Georgia EMC, said of the early days of the co-op movement. “And up until that point, [communities] really had no means to extend the facilities into those rural areas.”

The means to bring electric power into the less populated areas of the country came with the passage in 1936 of the Rural Electrification Administration Act, and the REA’s loan program that allowed volunteers in a given community to form customer-owned cooperatives to build and manage electric utilities.

“As long as those volunteers could sign up three meters per mile, they were eligible to extend lines,” Weaver said.

Jackson roots

The Central Georgia EMC’s first headquarters was on the corner of the Jackson Square at the corner of Second and Oak streets, where the Butts County water authority is now headquartered. The co-op received its charter June 11, 1937.

The EMC moved, around 1950, to what is now the central offices of the Butts County school system, and moved to its sprawling Mulberry Street campus in 1971. The move took place on what was Weaver’s third day on the job as a full-time employee.

The complex now covers roughly 75 acres, and several buildings, some of which were acquired as neighboring industries moved out.

Central Georgia EMC, for example, bought the old Springs Industries textile facility on Mulberry Street in 2002, and while the co-op only uses a portion of the building, Weaver said the remainder of the building, and another behind the main offices, gives the company the opportunity to expand in place, in the future.

“This has allowed us to stay where we are,” he said.

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George Weaver, president of the co-op, works in his office at the Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp.’s headquarters.

Weaver was named manager of the co-op in November of 1982, though the title has since been changed to president. In the co-op’s history, there have only been four managers, three whom held the position long term.

“I think that continuity and that closeness to the community is what, a lot of times, makes us successful,” said John Fish, Central Georgia EMC’s chief operating officer.

Electric co-ops like Central Georgia EMC are governed by a board of directors that is elected by members. Each summer, the co-op hosts its annual members’ meeting during which elections are held for seats on the board that are up in rotation. These days, the meetings are held under a large tent on the grounds of the Jackson headquarters, and include a hot dog lunch and prize giveaways.

Hundreds of members turn out each year for the event.

The board meets once a month, and sets policy for the operation of the EMC and receives reports on its activities.

The EMC buys its power wholesale as part of Oglethorpe Power Corp., and a group of six co-ops known as Cooperative Energy, Inc., as well as through contracts with other providers.

Weaver and Fish say Central Georgia’s method of buying from a diverse group of providers, and through a larger buyer in CIE, helps the co-op maintain competitive rates that are in some cases among the lowest in the state. Through CIE “we’re a part of six [buyers], whereas other EMCs may have a contract to buy all of their power from one source for a number of years,” Weaver said.

In a survey released last month by the Public Service Commission, Central Georgia EMC ranked as having the lowest rates among Georgia’s 42 EMCs and as the third lowest when comparing all 95 electric providers in the state, at the 2,000 kilowatt-hour level, the EMC said.

Technology, charity

Central Georgia EMC has also, over the years, focused on the use of innovative technologies to keep its costs down, and to better serve customers, Weaver said. In 2006, for example, the co-op finished installation of so-called smart meters that communicate with the EMC, to transmit usage data and eliminate the need for employees to manually read meters from the field.

The co-op also has online tools that allow customers to check their own usage, and a billing program that allows customers to pre-pay. By pre-paying and then being able to monitor usage through myusage.com, the expectation is that customers could start to self-regulate their power consumption and see their monthly bills decline.

Central Georgia EMC by the numbers

1937: The year Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp. was chartered.

14: Number of counties in Central Georgia EMC’s service territory.

19: Number of electric substations operated by the co-op.

50,816: Number of accounts billed by Central Georgia EMC, as of the end of 2011.

5,331: Miles of power lines on the co-op’s system.

74.38: Number of cents, out of every dollar paid by members in 2011, that went toward the purchase of wholesale power.

Source: Central Georgia Electric Membership Corp.

Central Georgia EMC Marketing Manager Christy Chewning said no formal studies of billing data for pre-pay customers has been done since the program’s start in 2010, but one is planned later, when more data on potential savings and consumption behavior will be available.

Members also receive, because of the co-op’s status as a member-owned utility, capital credits each year -- money returned to rate payers from funds collected over and above a given year’s expenses. Central Georgia EMC also has a program that allows members to round their monthly bills up, to make a donation to the co-op’s community charity program. The Central Georgia EMC Foundation then distributes the funds in the form of grants to community organizations that are selected from a pool of applicants.

Warren Holder, a board member of Central Georgia EMC for a dozen years and also a longtime Henry County politician, said the community’s participation in the voluntary Operation Roundup program -- along with the longevity members’ terms on the board of directors -- speaks to member-customers’ satisfaction with the operation of the utility.

He said only two members of the eight-member board of directors have served less time on the board than he.

“You’re serving your neighbors, your friends, people you don’t know ... You all have a common concern,” he said. “The people want a good system with as little downtime as possible ... I think it shows they’re pleased to a degree, otherwise they wouldn’t participate in Operation Roundup, and they would’ve been continually changing board members over the years.”

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On the net:

Central Georgia EMC: cgemc.com