Lea County Electric Cooperative had its beginning in May of 1946 when a group of concerned Lea County citizens met in hopes of creating an electric cooperative as a means of obtaining electric service to areas not receiving central station service. At this meeting, the incorporators were: W. A. Anderson, Lovington; Roy R. Lee, Lovington; U. D. Sawyer, Crossroads; M. R. Bess, Tatum; Mrs. Pearl Dunlap, Tatum; C. A. Fort, Prairieview; A.C. Taylor, Maljamar; E. L. Harbison, McDonald; and Eli Jones, Lovington. These citizens constituted the very first board of trustees for Lea County Electric. The first officers were W. A. Anderson, president; E. L. Harbison, vice president; and Roy R. Lee, secretary-treasurer.
The Cooperative was granted an Rural Electrification Administration (REA) loan in the amount of $775,000 in 1947, but for reasons of lack of feasibility, the funds were not released until 1949. At that time, the Cooperative purchased the Inland Utilities Company which served Buckeye, Tatum, and Lovington. The commercial utility decided to sell its Lovington holdings rather than invest additional capital to keep pace with rapidly expanding power needs in the booming Lea County area. R. B. Moore, District Manager for the Utility, was hired as the first general manager for the Cooperative.
In 1949, the Cooperative was a small entity with eight (8) employees, a power plant with one (1) 250 horsepower and two (2) 450 horsepower Fairbanks-Morse diesel electric generating units with a total plant generating capacity of 600 KW and approximately 136 miles of electrical distribution lines serving some 1,250 consumers. Total plant investment at the time was $525,000.
Although purchasing 1,000 KW from outside sources added to the maximum local production, the Cooperative was still unable to supply enough power to meet consumer demands. Faced with the consistent demand for electric service for consumers already on the system and the need for additional power for the building program to serve those without electrical service, the Cooperative started to expand facilities for future demands. The Cooperative built an electrical generating diesel plant which was brought on line in 1951 and expanded as more generating capacity was needed. The first 69,000-volt transmission line was built in 1952 to serve the Tatum area.
The Cooperative acquired the old Plains Power and Light Company to improve service to Texas consumers and expanded into three (3) counties of west Texas where service had not been rendered previously. All through the 50's and 60's, the Cooperative was taxed to keep up with growing demands of the service area. Despite this construction period, efficiencies were not overlooked. In 1957 and subsequent years, the Cooperative won the Diesel Progress Award for the "Most Efficiently Operated Internal Combustion Plant".
1959 was one of the greatest years of growth. Through space heating and additional activity in electrifying more oil installations within the service area, growth was considerable. A contract with Southwestern Public Service Company (SPP) for an intertie was put into effect to alleviate power requirements.
The first steam turbine was added to the generating plant and operational in 1961. This doubled the generating capacity of the system's plant. 1962 was a history making year because the Cooperative connected the 5,000,000 consumer, Lea County rancher John McGuffin, to receive electric service from an REA financed entity. In an effort to explore renewable energy sources for the generation of electricity, the Cooperative entered into a Research and Development project with the Department of Energy. In 1978, a 100 KW photovoltaic flat panel facility was built and brought on line in 1980. Another past project funded by the Cooperative was the installation of a 25 KW wind turbine at the photovoltaic site in 1981.
Because of increasing costs of natural gas, the Cooperative closed the generating plant in 1983 and began purchasing all power from SPP who used mainly coal-fired plants. The move was an economic measure because the Cooperative could buy power cheaper than the cost of generation. In 1985, the United States Department of Energy recognized Cooperative programs with an Award for Energy Innovation for distinguished contribution to the Nation's energy efficiency. At the time, the Cooperative was the only New Mexico utility to receive an award under the program.
In past years, the Cooperative was recommended by the Department of State's Agency for International Development as a place for foreign countries to learn about rural electrification and the operation of the American utility system. Representatives from Indonesia, Iraq, North Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Philippines, Japan, and China have visited our system.
Today, the Cooperative maintains its commitment to its members. The Cooperative has 87 full-time employees, an annual load factor of 1,384,000,000 KwH sales. The system includes 32 substations, 10 switch stations, and 5 transmission interchange stations. 4308 miles of energized line serving more than 20,000 consumers in parts of Chaves, Eddy, and Lea Counties in New Mexico and parts of Cochran, Gaines, and Yoakum Counties in west Texas with a total utility plant of $168,000,000.
The Cooperative has nine (9) dedicated trustees, who along with management and employees, have led Lea County Electric through changes and growth. That's how it has been in the past, that's how it is today, and that's how it will continue to be in the future.