In the 1930s electricity was only available to city residents. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, frustrated by the high cost of electricity to his home in Warm Springs, created the Rural Electric Administration (REA). The purpose of the REA was to loan money to cooperatives and other groups to build rural power lines. In 1936, Congress passed the Rural Electrification Act to establish the REA as a full-scale agency of the government.
A group of citizens met on July 25, 1938 to form Habersham Electric Membership Cooperative, a non-profit member-owned cooperative, in order to bring electricity to the rural areas of Habersham, Hall, White, Stephens, Rabun and Lumpkin counties. Forming a cooperative was necessary as the investor-owned power suppliers didn’t believe it was profitable to build power lines to the farm families spread out in the rural areas.
The first meeting of HEMC was held in August 1938 and seven directors were elected. The newly formed co-op didn’t waste time in setting up their business. The first headquarters was located in Clarkesville on North Washington Street with three employees. An engineering firm, J.B. McCrary, was also hired to build power lines. The first 70 miles of line were energized in Habersham, Rabun and White counties on May 15, 1939.
In 1942, the board elected nine directors, instead of seven, and the number remains the same today. At the end of five years (1945) the Cooperative had built 392 miles of line and had 1,663 consumers. The members used an average of 45 kWh per month and paid 6.4 cents per kWh. To make paying more convenient for consumers, HEMC established a policy for “collecting agents.” This allowed customers to pay their bills at a designated site such as their local country store, gas station, bank, etc., instead of having to come into the main office in Clarkesville. This tradition is still in effect today as members may pay at the Cleveland branch office, online, by phone and by bank or credit card draft.
In November 1958 the Cooperative moved into a new headquarters building on Highway 115 in Clarkesville. Later an additional personnel building, warehouse and shop were built. In January 2005, the current Engineering & Operations building opened, on the hill above the headquarters, to meet HEMC’s growing needs. A new Administration building was constructed in front of the E&O building and opened in July 2006.
In 1975 HEMC and 38 other Georgia cooperatives formed the Oglethorpe Power Corporation, a generation and transmission facility designed to meet the wholesale power needs of the member systems. OPC is now the largest independent supplier of electricity in the nation. In 1997, OPC divided its operations into two other companies: Georgia System Operations Corporation (GSOC) handles dispatching generated power and the transmission system for the EMCs; Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC) plans, builds and maintains the transmission system of high-volume electric lines and substations; OPC maintains its’ identity as the power supplier.
Habersham EMC’s 95 full time and part time employees and nine directors continue the effort set by their forefathers to provide a dependable supply of electricity for all members at the lowest possible cost in keeping with good sound management practices. HEMC is an innovative, member-owned cooperative and community leader serving Northeast Georgia with clean, reliable, affordable energy and providing solutions for efficiency and convenience.