Can you imagine a time where only 1 out of 10 rural homes had electric service? As late as the mid-1930s, that was the case. The lack of electricity in rural areas adversely affected economic growth and personal income for these communities. Private utility companies, who supplied electric power to the urban areas, argued that it was too expensive to construct towers and electric lines to the isolated rural areas. In 1935, President Roosevelt established the Rural Electrification Administration (REA). The program provided federal assistance for rural electrification where private companies declined to do so.
Five years later, the Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative was organized in Upstate South Carolina. The cooperative began with more than 1,000 employees who transitioned over from the South Carolina Rural Electrification Authority.
Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative is a customer-owned, not-for-profit, electric distribution service that serves over 63,000 customers in the Upstate. Their service areas include Anderson, Greenville, Spartanburg, Oconee, and Pickens counties. Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative is South Carolina's fourth largest cooperative.
By operating on a not-for-profit, cost-of-service basis, Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative is able to provide utilities at comparable rates. The gross margins are given back to the members in the form of account credits.
A one-time $5 membership fee allows a customer to become a part owner of the cooperative. All members have a role in how Blue Ridge Electric is run, elect the board of directors, and are invited to voice their opinion at the annual meeting each May. This annual meeting isn’t your typical sedate board meeting. Blue Ridge provides live entertainment and door prizes, including a grand prize pick-up truck.
This year Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative celebrated 75 years of providing power to Upstate South Carolina, allowing these areas to grow and thrive economically. On Friday, August 14 the cooperative made it a community affair, inviting all their locations to help celebrate their 75th anniversary. Blue Ridge hosted afternoon festivities in the lobby of each of its offices. Attendees enjoyed cake and refreshments and had the opportunity to purchase a book commemorating the history and people behind the cooperative.
The celebration also honored the release of a new book documenting Blue Ridge’s journey. AHistory of Blue Ridge Electric Cooperative commemorates the first 75 years of the member-owned utility’s operation. The author, Terrel "Terry" Ballenger, has been an employee with Blue Ridge for more than 40 years. His research brought to light stories from grandchildren of members and former employees who recalled the days when there was no power available to the residents in rural Upstate South Carolina. Through personal narratives, images, and illustrations we see how this cooperative started small and flourished to where it is today: providing electric service to more than 64,000 individual households and local businesses across the Upstate.
Blue Ridge also created an 11-minute film about the history of the co-op and the influence they have had on the community.
The celebration isn’t over yet. This September, 75 members of the Blue Ridge Cooperative will be honored by the “Bolts of Brightness” program. Earlier in the year, residents were asked to nominate Blue Ridge members who are beacons in their community. The recipients will be honored at an awards dinner and the cooperative will contribute $500 donations to the winners’ respective causes.
Today, Blue Ridge is still putting members first. They are dedicated to responding to its members’ needs. Being locally owned and operated, all employees of the cooperative are also residents of the area. They are continually vested in meeting the needs of their communities and fellow neighbors.Article by Deb Peluso