Charles Mix Electric, located in Charles Mix County in south central South Dakota had its beginning like many rural electric cooperatives. It was organized in the 1940's because the privately owned utilities in the area refused to provide electrical service to rural people.
At the time, private utilities were not interested in serving the rural areas because they didn't think any money could be made by doing so. Besides, the thinking at the time was that rural people neither needed nor wanted electricity. Before 1935, only one out of 10 farms in America had electricity.
In 1935, the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) was created. The creation of REA made it possible for rural people to receive electricity.
The REA made low interest loans available to the countryside. However, very few private utilities made use of the loans, so farmer organized cooperatives sprang up around the country to do the job of bringing light to rural America.
Clay Union Electric in Vermillion was the first South Dakota rural electric to successfully provide electrical service to its members. Neighboring farmers watched with great interest the operations of Clay Union Electric. Many people living in Charles Mix County worked long hours and drove many miles at their own expense to gain support of organizing a cooperative in Charles Mix County. On September 6th, 1945, Charles Mix Electric filed its Articles of Incorporation with the Secretary of State for South Dakota. The Articles, in brief, stated that it was to be a non-profit organization to do the things necessary to furnish electricity to its members.
The Articles of Incorporation and By-laws name the following men to act as Directors of the new corporation: Carl J. Anderson, Frank Broz, and Roy C. Crisman all of Wagner; John Engelland, Frank Novotny both from the Lake Andes area, Alfred J. Lien of Platte, and Pete Olson of Bijou Hills. The attorney for the Cooperative was Paul A. Kern of Lake Andes.
Mr. Kern had worked hard and used his office and facilities to form the cooperative. Charles Mix Electric applied for its first loan on March 26, 1946, for an amount of $400,000. This loan was authorized on June 10th, 1947, and on January 22, 1949, Alfred J. Lien was the first to receive electrical service from the cooperative.
In 1953, the employees of Charles Mix Electric moved into a newly constructed building just south of the Charles Mix County Courthouse. The facility was a modern office building with plenty of room for operations of the cooperative, material storage and 5 available stalls for the trucks. With a whopping 3 line trucks, a digger truck, and few employees, the cooperative had only to build additional electrical services as the new system required very little maintenance.
The electrical distribution system continued to grow throughout the 50's and 60's as the local agricultural based economy grew. Farmers found that electricity was of great help on the farm and in the home, causing a enormous increase in electrical use by Charles Mix Electric members. Home heating with electricity became commonplace as prices of oil and gas rose during the energy crisis of the 70's.
In the late 1970's several dry years cause less than desirable yields for crop land. This prompted many area farmers to look into the possibility of using flood irrigation or a new system called the center pivot irrigation system. The use of electricity to pump water was very attractive as power was very inexpensive at the time. Although electric home heating was becoming very common, Charles Mix Electric saw the peak electrical use move from the winter months to the summer months. The use of underground high voltage cable began to become commonplace on the Charles Mix Electric Distribution system. Expansion of the storage facilities was required, and in 1982 a new 50' x 80' pole building was constructed for storage in the material yard. Electricity use continued to increase.
With electricity use on the rise, new large scale electrical generation stations were built to satisfy the demand for electricity. Paying for the new power production caused electricity rates to increased steadily. Rural consumer began to rethink their electricity use, resulting in an extreme slowdown in kWh sold. This slowdown further exacerbated the problem of paying for the new generation and electric rates continued to rise. The early 80's saw the home heating load diminish and irrigation systems began to go unused.
In an effort to deal with the rising electricity rates, East River initiated a load management program in 1984 to help bring the costs under control. Charles Mix Electric participated heavily in the new program which was designed to bring on new electrical loads while keeping them "off-peak". In the late 80's electrical use for home heating and water heating began to pick up. Remnants of that program are still in effect today to promote the efficient use of electricity.
Expanded customer services from Charles Mix Electric made it obvious that more office space was required and in 1989 the Board of Directors voted to add several offices and a new board room to the existing facilities. The project was completed in early 1990 as the employees moved equipment, records and personal items into the much needed space.
As the distribution system ran over it's 40th birthday, it became apparent that an aggressive distribution maintenance and replacement plan was needed. A vigorous program of pole testing and line replacement was undertaking in the early 90's. New line equipment was needed to keep up with modern technologies as power outages were not well tolerated by members. The bucket trucks and digger/derrick trucks were upgraded to enable the lineman to work on the lines while still energized, and new equipment was purchased as the use of underground facilities became preferred by the membership.
Again, a building addition was needed to house all the new equipment. In 1995, a large addition to the shop was constructed to handle up to 3 additional large vehicles as well as some space for material storage.
In 1997 Charles Mix Electric initiated a movement to bring the world wide web to the area. Through a partnership with BY Electric Cooperative in Tabor, SD, Ft. Randall Telephone in Wagner, SD, and Charles Mix Electric, internet services became available to the Lake Andes, Wagner and Pickstown area. The new service was called CME.NET and started with a few local techies taking advantage of the new service. Home PC use was minimal at the time and a small number of customers was expected. What is expected and what occurs are usually two different things, and as Christmas 1997 rolled around, the use of the internet had grown such as to require a large upgrade of infrastructure to handle the new users. BY Electric, struggling with their own growth, was taken out of the picture as new equipment was installed in Wagner to handle the calls of all the new users. The upgraded equipment handled the growth for a substantially time, but in the fall of 1999, was again overwhelmed with users. Busy signals again became common users tried to log on to phone lines that were not available. A large scale upgrade was again implemented in January of 2000, doubling the available phone lines for the excited users.
Charles Mix Electric has dealt with many problems over the years from ice storms to lawsuits and from the Y2k computer scare to the booming expansion of recreational facilities. Every new problem opens new possibilities for the cooperative, making it a stronger organization which stands to persevere into the next century. The employees of Charles Mix Electric are dedicated to the four core values of Touchstone Energy: Integrety, Innovation, Accountability, and Committment to Community.