The Cooperative Story
The history of Pedernales Electric Cooperative, now more than 80 years old, is closely linked with the history of the American cooperative: a story of neighbors helping neighbors and communities coming together to create a brighter future.
When we set our first pole in 1939, we put down roots in a region — and a nation — that was growing into its best self. Today, as a cooperative working with more than 900 other cooperatives nationwide, we’re helping that promise come to fruition.
Electricity has not yet arrived in the Texas Hill Country. Though Austin, just 50 miles away, is electrified, the region’s farmers and ranchers live the same hardscrabble existence as their pioneer ancestors. They hand-pump water from wells in the punishing heat and heat their homes with coal or hand-split wood. At night, they have only dim gas lamps, making it difficult to work, study or take part in leisure activities between sundown and sunup.
But change is on the way.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt establishes the Rural Electrification Association (REA) to help bring electricity to America’s rural areas. But population requirements — a minimum average of three customers per square mile — and a shortage of funding keeps the rural Hill Country in the dark.
Lyndon B. Johnson (LBJ) runs for Congress, his first public office, promising the citizens of his district that he would “see that they got electric lights.”
The REA drafts the Electric Cooperative Corporation Act, creating a nationwide model for the formation and operation of nonprofit, consumer-owned electric cooperatives.
LBJ and representatives from Blanco, Burnet, Gillespie, Hays and Llano counties meet to sign an official document incorporating a “Pedernales Electric Cooperative.” LBJ, now a 28-year-old congressman, lobbies the Roosevelt administration to bring electricity to the region. E. Babe Smith, a local rancher, canvasses the Hill Country to sign up farmers and ranchers for electric service.
On Sept. 27, with about 3,000 Hill Country families signed up for electric service, LBJ meets with President Roosevelt once again to push for an exception to the population requirement. FDR makes a call to the REA director, and PEC is awarded a $1.332 million loan to build nearly 1,800 miles of electric lines.
PEC energizes its first 1,800-mile section of line in Burnet County, and for the first time, electric lighting illuminates the Hill Country.
PEC and its membership and service grow rapidly, and PEC’s first headquarters building is erected in Johnson City.
America’s electric cooperatives form the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) to provide a unified voice for American cooperatives and to represent their interests in Washington, D.C.
PEC installs street lights in Lago Vista, which becomes the first rural community in the nation with illuminated streets.
Hill Country growth is skyrocketing — just five years after hitting the 50,000-meter milestone, PEC installs its 75,000th meter. The cooperative dedicates its renovated Johnson City headquarters building to E. Babe Smith.
PEC reaches 300,000 active accounts. The cooperative — now serving almost 1 million people — has grown by a factor of 100 since our founding in 1938, just 79 years ago.
PEC remains active in its community, owned and governed by its members and dedicated to helping the Hill Country shine. In the cooperative spirit, we work hand-in-hand with more than 900 other cooperatives as members of the NRECA and Touchstone Energy Cooperatives to keep our nation’s communities growing strong and bright.