The 5th Principle
Just as it became clear that the fledging electric co-ops needed a central coordinating organization and created the “Statewide” in 1936, by July 1940 it was clear that the co-ops needed to counter the propaganda campaign undertaken by the big privately owned power companies. And so the Wisconsin REA News was launched to tell the truth about electric cooperatives to fight back against the slanderous utility campaign against public power. The eight-page tabloid newspaper was the first statewide electric cooperative publication.
Rural folks, farmers mostly, begged the big private power companies to extend electricity to their farms. But they were denied. The sparse farms in most communities fell short of a financial break-even point, let alone the profit potential the companies wanted. Farmers were going to have to get electricity on their own. FDR’s New Deal federal Rural Electrification Administration low interest loans made that possible. By 1940, a third of the nation’s farmers were enjoying the benefits of central station electricity that brought lights to their homesteads and technology into their barns.
The battle between the profit-making private power companies and the government-subsidized rural electric cooperatives raged on. The power company profits were threatened if electric cooperatives were successful. Newspapers were the most effective way of bad-mouthing public power calling them “un-American,” incompetent and communist forms of business. The campaign was carried out from New England to California. At one point, the cost of such a campaign caught the attention of the Federal Trade Commission. FTC investigators estimated that the utilities spent from $25 million to $30 million a year in paid advertising.
Throughout the seventy-five year history of the Wisconsin statewide publication there have been political and competitive challenges that our electric co-op members deserve to know the truth about how it will impact their electricity cost or service. Everyone has their opinions and political ties, but no one can deny that if not for electric cooperatives parts of rural America would still be in the dark. Electrification and in particular rural electrification is the top engineering feat of the 20th century.
Our mission as electric cooperatives does not stop with providing electricity to our members. Our presence in your communities improves the quality of life in rural America. With over 900 electric cooperatives serving more than 42 million member-owners electric cooperatives cover 80 percent of the United States. You might say we connect America. And we do this not for profit, for our margins are returned to our member-owners. We do it so that rural America will shine bright in the countryside at night, so that businesses and public services can thrive, so that our members and communities can work, play and enjoy healthy, quality life styles.
Today the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News reaches our members with news about the industry, energy conservation and innovation, safety around electricity, and yes recipes! Most importantly your local co-op keeps you informed about the co-op business, annual meeting, member events, youth opportunities, and energy efficiency services. In keeping with the 5th Cooperative Principle of Education, Training, and Information there are 32 rural electric statewide publications. I hope you will enjoy reading each issue of the Wisconsin Energy Cooperative News.