Important Dates in the History of Prairie Land Electric Cooperative, Inc.
A Kansas charter was signed by twenty persons to create the Norton-Decatur Cooperative Electric Company, Inc., and 147 members had signed a membership list and paid their $5.00. The first minimum monthly payment was set at $3.50 for a farm and $2.10 for residents of a village.
First Board Meeting
The first board meeting was held at Norcatur City Hall. The first Board consisted of: Fremont Sleffel, President; E.W. Benton, Vice President; Alva Carpenter, Secretary-Treasurer; and board members H.O. Johnson, Robert Scott, A.F. Unger, George Haas, Iver Standish and Dell Ballinger. At this meeting, the first two consultants were hired; Robert W Hemphill of Norton as project attorney and Paul B. Hughes as system engineer.
The Kansas Corporation Commission signed a certificate of convenience to serve portions of Decatur, Norton, Graham, Sheridan and Thomas counties. Later, certificates were issued to serve Phillips and portions of Rooks counties.
First Annual Meeting of the Members
There were 39 members present at the first annual meeting held at the Norcatur City Hall.
A two room office was leased in the Broquet Building on east Washington Street in Norton. Velma Garton was hired as the first bookkeeper and full-time employee that year. Board member S. M. Ward was appointed acting project superintendent.
"A" Loan Granted
REA granted the first loan to service the territory for $88,000. Local consumers and potential consumers were hired to dig holes, set poles and anchors.
Fremont Sleffel resigned as president of the Board to become project superintendent in July, and was replaced as Presdient by Iver Standish.
First Consumers Connected
The first 97 miles of line were energized. Power was purchased from the City of Norton. The first section of line was from Norton east eight miles along Prairie Dog Creek to Calvert, and from Norton west along Prairie Dog Creek to near Jennings, then across the divide to Allison, and east along the North Solomon River to New Almelo. By February, 132 members were connected.
The town of Woodruff and its 40 meters in Phillips County was acquired from Northern Kansas Power Co. By the end of the year, there were 166 members connected.
D.R. Ellermeier was hired as manager, and by the end of the year, the Corporation had grown to 361 consumers and 130 miles of line.
A new substation project east of Tasco was built in the fall and winter of 1947-1948 by Central Kansas Power Co. Norton-Decatur built lines from this substation to the towns of Tasco and Studley, north to Lucerne, to the Chicago church and school, toward Allison and west along the Solomon River. By the end of 1947, 442 members were receiving electrical service and an additional 2500 members had signed up.
Central Kansas Power Co.
During the spring and summer of 1948, Norton-Decatur's construction crew was "leased" to Central Kansas Power Co. to help build a 34.5 kV transmission line from Hoxie to 6 miles north of Dresden for power in the Decatur county area. Kanona, Norcatur and Clayton were acquired and a service outpost was created at Norcatur. 600 services were connected in 1948, just in time for a devastating ice storm.
Two Way Radio System
In 1949, two contractors were hired to assist Norton-Decatur line crews in bujilding electric power lines and connecting meters. Another service outpost was created at Hill City as lines were being built in Graham, Phillips and Rooks counties. The first two-way radio system was purchased and 500 new consumers received electrical service during the year.
1000 Customers Added
In 1950, 1000 new consumers were added, and the Board was motivated to create another service outpost at Phillipsburg.
New Office Building
The Board approved bids for a new office building in 1952. By the end of the year, 2772 miles of line had been constructed to serve 3650 consumers. However, the average farm only used about 158 kWh each month. Paired with the low rates, the usage was not enough to support the capital investment in line, substations, transformers, etc. The year ended with a $36,984 deficit. Another outpost was established in Stockton during the 1950s
The 1957 Blizzard
One of the most devastating blizzards in Kansas history ripped through the service territory. Nearly all of the more than 4000 consumers were without service for some period of time. Most of the syystem's 3075 miles of lines were damaged and major highways were closed for days.The hardest hit was in Stockton, where one 10-mile stretch of line was down with ALL poles broken. With the support of consumers, Norton-Decatur line crews, and crews from other rural electric cooperatives, most farms and residences had their service restored within two weeks.
Until 1957, electricity was purchased from the Central Kansas Power Company. Norton-Decatur was one of six rural electric cooperatives in western Kansas that organized a generation and transmission cooperative in 1957 (Sunflower Electric Cooperative). Thus, a projected CKP rate increase was avoided.
In 1959, a transmission line was built from the Dresden Substation to 4 miles northwest of Oberlin to build a new substation there. The Norcatur outpost was moved to Oberlin. By the end of the year, the cooperative had $4.5 million in plant, 3,166 miles of line, 3,955 consumers and a deficit of $12,950. As kWh sales were not keeping pace with operating expenses, the cooperative began promoting the use of electricity, including electric heat.
Tranfer of Management
D.R. Ellermeier retired as general manager and was replaced by Phillip A. Lesh. During the 1960's, the number of farms decreased, but farm loads increased due to the expanded use of electricity. The margins for 1961-1968 were applied to prior year's deficits, resulting in positive equity by 1968.
Merger Created Prairie Land
In April 1996, the memberships of both the Norton-Decatur Electric Cooperative and the Northwest Kansas Electric Cooperative Association voted overwhelmingly to merge the two cooperatives. The merger became effective 1-1-97. Work began to incorporate the two companies into one, standardize board and personnel policies and find a new name for the company: Prairie Land Electric Cooperative, Inc.
September 19, 2000, the Board met to break ground on a new headquarters on 17 acres west of Norton. The new complex would bring all of Prairie Land's off-site warehouses and pole yard to a common site. Construction was completed in August 2001.
As an example of commitment to cooperatives, six neighboring electric cooperatives in western Kansas created the Mid-Kansas Electric Company and successfully purchased the West Plains electric system owned by Aquila, Inc. This purchase added 15,084 customers in 67 towns to Prairie Land Electric's customer base.
Concordia Ribbon Cutting and Open House
By June of 2008, the newly remodeled Prairie Land Electric office in Concordia re-opened its door for business, after being closed since 2001. On July 22, 2008, the Prairie Land Electric Board of Trustees, staff and community celebrated with an open house and ribbon Cutting
St. Francis Warehouse
Groundbreaking for a new warehouse on 5 acres near St. Francis began in March of 2012 and construction was completed by November with state-of-the-art energy efficiency. On December 10, crews began moving the office and inventory from Bird City to this new location.
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Prairie Land embarked on an 8400 square foot office expansion project that creates a secured office space necessary to house new technologies. The new office addition utilizes ground source renewable energy and was installed by Prairie Land's HVAC department, saving thousands of dollars over bids from outside venders.