Lea County Electric Cooperative, Inc., was established in May of 1946 when a group of concerned Lea County citizens met in hopes of creating an electric cooperative to obtain electric service to areas not receiving service. At this meeting, the incorporators were: W. A. Anderson, Lovington; Roy R. Lee, Lovington; U. D. Sawyer, Crossroads; M. R. Bess, Tatum; Mrs. Pearl Dunlap, Tatum; C. A. Fort, Prairieview; A.C. Taylor, Maljamar; E. L. Harbison, McDonald; and Eli Jones, Lovington. These citizens constituted the very first board of trustees for LCEC. The first officers were W. A. Anderson, president; E. L. Harbison, vice president; and Roy R. Lee, secretary-treasurer.
The Cooperative was granted a Rural Electrification Administration (REA) loan of $775,000 in 1947, but for lack of feasibility, the funds were not released until 1949. The Cooperative then purchased the Inland Utilities Company, which served Buckeye, Tatum, and Lovington. The commercial utility decided to sell its Lovington holdings rather than invest additional capital to keep pace with rapidly expanding power needs in the booming Lea County area. R. B. Moore, District Manager for the Utility, was hired as the first general manager for the Cooperative.
In 1949, the Cooperative was a small entity with eight employees, a power plant with one 250 horsepower and two 450 horsepower Fairbanks-Morse diesel electric generating units with a total plant generating capacity of 600 Kilo Watts (KW) and approximately 136 miles of electrical distribution lines serving some 1,250 consumers. Total plant investment at the time was $525,000.
Although purchasing 1,000 KW from outside sources added to the maximum local production, LCEC still needed to supply more power to meet consumer demands. Faced with the consistent demand for electric service for consumers already on the system and the need for additional power for the building program to serve those without electrical service, the Cooperative started to expand facilities for future demands. The Cooperative built an electrical generating diesel plant brought online in 1951 and expanded as more generating capacity was needed. The first 69,000-volt transmission line was built in 1952 to serve the Tatum area.
LCEC acquired the old Plains Power and Light Company to improve service to Texas consumers. It expanded into three counties of west Texas where service had yet to be rendered previously. All through the 50s and 60s, the Cooperative was taxed to keep up with the growing demands of the service area. Despite this construction period, efficiencies were noticed. In 1957 and subsequent years, the Cooperative won the Diesel Progress Award for the "Most Efficiently Operated Internal Combustion Plant."
1959 was one of the most significant years of growth. Growth was considerable through space heating and additional activity in electrifying more oil installations within the service area. A contract with Southwestern Public Service Company (SPP) for an intertie was implemented to alleviate power requirements.
The first steam turbine was added to the generating plant and became operational in 1961. This doubled the generating capacity of the system's plant. 1962 was a history-making year because the Cooperative connected the 5,000,000 consumers, Lea County rancher John McGuffin, to receive electric service from an REA-financed entity. To explore renewable energy sources for electricity generation, the Cooperative entered a Research and Development project with the Department of Energy. In 1978, a 100 KW photovoltaic flat panel facility was built and brought online in 1980. Another past project funded by the Cooperative was the installation of a 25 KW wind turbine at the photovoltaic site in 1981.
Because of the increasing natural gas costs, the Cooperative closed the generating plant in 1983 and began purchasing all power from SPP, which used mainly coal-fired plants. The move was economic because the Cooperative could buy power cheaper than the generation cost. In 1985, the United States Department of Energy recognized Cooperative programs with an Award for Energy Innovation for distinguished contribution to the Nation's energy efficiency. At the time, the Cooperative was the only New Mexico utility to receive an award under the program.
In past years, the Cooperative was recommended by the Department of State's Agency for International Development as a place for foreign countries to learn about rural electrification and the operation of the American utility system. Representatives from Indonesia, Iraq, North Yemen, Jordan, Egypt, Philippines, Japan, and China have visited our system.
Today, the Cooperative maintains its commitment to its members. The Cooperative has over 80 full-time employees, an annual load factor of 1,384,000,000-Kilowatt Hours (KwH) sales. The system includes 32 substations, ten switch stations, and five transmission interchange stations. Over 4,300 miles of energized line serving more than 7,000 consumers and over 16,000 meters in parts of Chaves, Eddy, and Lea Counties in New Mexico and parts of Cochran, Gaines, and Yoakum Counties in west Texas with a total utility plant of $168,000,000.
The Cooperative has nine dedicated trustees, who, along with management and employees, have led LCEC through changes and growth. That's how it has been in the past, how it is today, and how it will continue to be in the future.