Celebrating 75 Years of People. Power. Progress.
On June 27, 1938, Jackson Electric Membership Corporation received its charter to begin offering electricity to the rural communities in the Jackson County area. Neighbors, friends and businesspeople came together to spread the word about the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) and encourage potential members to pay the $5 membership fee – the equivalent of $82 in money today. It would be 10 months before the first lights would come on, but from that moment, the cooperative progressed quickly.
The name “Jackson” was chosen to signify the new cooperative was incorporated in Jackson County. The remainder of the name was in accordance with Georgia General Assembly requirements that “Electric Membership Corporation” be included in the name of each cooperative formed under the Rural Electrification Act.
This is a milestone year for Jackson EMC, one in which we can celebrate our heritage, reflect on our accomplishments over the past 75 years and anticipate what’s yet to come. Although a timeline showcases the highlights through the years, our evolution can be portrayed visually as a circle – as one thing begins, another comes to an end and the day-to-day processes are ongoing. As the saying goes, things have come full circle, as the cooperative you know today involves people, concerns power and affects progress.
In the beginning, the people came together to form the cooperative. Jackson EMC was formed to serve mostly rural homeowners, farmers, churches and small businesses in the area. For many homes, a single light bulb on a string pierced the darkness giving families their first experiences with light after dusk.
Families began to make small appliance purchases to add a little more efficiency to daily chores, such as ironing.
Farmers got much needed help as well, as they migrated some backbreaking chores from manual labor to timesaving appliances such as electric milkers, pumps, grinders, brooders and milk coolers. Farmers also put electricity to use in new ways – electric hotbeds for plants, electrically operated wagon unloaders and electric powered hay and grain elevators.
To string lines, set up accounts and serve Jackson EMC’s first customers, many people in the community found work at the newly formed cooperative.
Our commercial members benefited from rural electrification as well, going from small gas stations and country stores to industrialized poultry houses. Electricity revolutionized the way of life for rural America, and Jackson EMC was just getting started.
During the cooperative’s early years, vehicles were utility trucks that carried men and wire. The REA required them to be red, and the trucks’ doors advertised them as belonging to an “REA Co-op.” It wasn’t until the 1960s that the first bucket trucks were added to the cooperative’s fleet, providing access to roadside power lines without having to climb poles.
The first Jackson EMC substation was energized at Jefferson in 1939, less than a mile from where the cooperative’s headquarters now stands. Built of steel, just like today’s substations, they only had a capacity of 3,000kVA, compared to the 50,000kVA to 100,000kVA capacity of today’s substations.
Paying for power has significantly changed since our founding. In 1939, the cooperative had members read their own meters. Members received “double postcard” mimeographed cards for them to mark their meter reading on one side of the cards’ blank dials that corresponded to those on their meters. That side of the card was sent back to our office for billing. The second side carried messages about services or events. When the cooperative received the marked up cards, they filled them in by hand with names, addresses, usage and amount due on pre-printed postcard bills. Those bills were mailed back to members for payment. Members could bring the card to pay at the office or mail a check or money order.
Personal computers and automated billing programs changed the way we billed in 1985. We deployed 35 field service representatives to conduct monthly meter readings using handheld devices that read the meters and uploaded the information electronically to the new computers.
The process that would seem most unfathomable is the way outages were reported. Members were provided with postcards that they could mail to the cooperative to report a power outage and request repairs. Later, a single collect outage call from each area would be accepted by the office in Jefferson, where all crews were dispatched to make repairs. When the cooperative’s district offices were set up in Lawrenceville in early 1952, Neese in December of the same year, and Gainesville the following January, customers were instructed to first check their fuse and check with their neighbors to see if they were without electricity, then call the district office to report an outage. The district managers’ home phone numbers were published so they could take outage calls after business hours, and radios in their homes let them dispatch district-based repair crews.
Each outage call was written down on a slip of paper. The distribution system was small, and the district managers knew it so well that they could easily determine where to dispatch crews.
Jackson EMC switched to a mapping process as the cooperative’s distribution system grew in size and complexity. Computerization eliminated handwritten outage tickets, but while the computer was faster, the system still produced paper service order tickets that had to be hand sorted and matched to a paper wall map of the distribution system in order to determine where to dispatch crews. When the Integrated Voice Response (IVR) system was introduced in 1990, it automatically sorted service order tickets by map location, but the tickets still needed to be matched to the paper wall map.
A major change took place with the installation of the Outage Management System (OMS) in 2007, which pulls data from a variety of systems to help determine which truck is closest to the outage and to be deployed for repairs.
In 1939, the average member used 22 kWh of electricity. Today, we serve more than 210,000 meters, and with the use of electric heating and cooling, televisions, computers and hundreds of other electric appliances and gadgets, the average residential member uses about 1,200 kWh.
The cooperative’s first system project strung 171 miles of single-phase line serving 664 farms in Jackson, Banks and Madison counties. Today, the cooperative has 13,549 miles of energized wire and 80 metering points, employs 407 people and serves 10 counties in northeast Georgia.
Most importantly, customer service is more than lip service or a slogan, it’s what we believe serves as the backbone of the cooperative’s success.
We provided resources to members from the day our lines were energized. During our first years, cooperative employees provided demonstration classes on how to cook on electric stoves, wire homes, use electric equipment on the farm and much more. As members’ needs changed, Jackson EMC’s services changed to give members what they needed. As the novelty of having electricity wore off, energy efficiency became and remains a driving force in the resources we provide. Energy efficient homes were promoted and incented. Members were educated on the benefits of heat pumps. Tips on energy saving techniques were shared. Commercial and industrial customers were provided with energy and infrared audits, as well as power quality and other support. Today, the cooperative’s website offers members 24/7 support, with information ranging from “how-to” videos to online home energy audits.
Our meter reading process changed in 2009 when we implemented the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project, which eliminated the need to send personnel out to read meters. New “smart meters” now monitor monthly power usage, and automatically alert us when a member’s power is out, pinpoint and display the locations that are out, and even alert the cooperative when a member’s power is restored.
Today, while many members still use the IVR to report outages, they now can report service interruptions through our website or on their mobile device.
There’s not enough space here to share how much your cooperative has grown from our humble beginnings in 1938 to where we are today, and we’re just 75 years young. While we’ve experienced changes along the way, one thing remains constant – $5 still earns you membership/ ownership in Jackson EMC, board members continue to represent your best interests, you continue to share in the costs to operate the cooperative and receive a portion of the revenues left after operating expenses are paid in the form of margin refunds. In 2012, that refund was $5 million, for a total of $90 million returned to members since the cooperative was founded.
Most importantly, customer service is more than lip service or a slogan, it’s what we believe serves as the backbone of the cooperative’s success. In just a few days, we’ll celebrate 75 years of People, Power and Progress at Annual Meeting. I hope you’ll attend and experience the journey that’s brought us where we are today, and will guide us into the next milestone.