CEO Message — November 2019

Posted: November 1, 2019, 12:00 am

Eighty years later, we're building again

Les MorelandIt’s hard for us to imagine life in 1939 when this cooperative was founded. Today, a week without access to electricity is a hopefully once-in-a-lifetime event, and something you tell stories about for years to come. In 1939, there was no electric service for most of the Wiregrass. People woke, worked, raised their families, and went to bed without flipping a single light switch. Today, any interruption to electric service seems like an interruption to our entire lives.

How did we get from there to here? In short: a lot of time and effort. Rural communities came together and demanded access to the same technology their urban counterparts enjoyed. They formed a cooperative — Wiregrass Electric — that spent decades building infrastructure to deliver electricity to every single one of its members, no matter how remote.

In recent years, this story has taken on more meaning. Today, the Wiregrass finds itself again lacking a vital infrastructure our friends and family in larger cities have: broadband internet. And, like in 1939, Wiregrass Electric Cooperative (WEC) is working to close the divide for all our members.

Stringing electric line across the fields, woods, and rivers took years. The electrification of the Wiregrass, bringing this life-changing technology to our homes, was neither easy nor quick. Likewise, bringing broadband is not something that will happen in a single year, or even in five years or more.

This is a frustrating reality, but I want to be absolutely clear. At WEC, we are committed to

  1. Finding a way to bring broadband to every community we serve.
  2. Doing so in the most fiscally responsible way possible.
  3. Communicating with our members honestly throughout this process.

Our task is massive, and the road for some of our members will be long. Today, our partner, Troy Cable, is building a fiber optic internet network between our substations and into neighborhoods along these routes. That’s our first phase. This first step helps us both improve our member service as an electric distributor and bring access to fiber-optic internet to many of our members.

Our next steps include applying for grants and lobbying for changes in the way grants are awarded. We’ve been very fortunate to receive grant money for our service area, but much more is needed.

So we continue to work with our partner, Troy Cable, to apply for funding and work toward 100% coverage. Just like the last 80 years, we’ll keep building and striving until we complete our goals. But it will take time.

We have a commitment to be good stewards of every dollar our members send to us. We work hard to remain on sound financial footing and to be judicious in how we spend. Before setting out on this journey, we researched and studied. We believe we are moving forward in a way that is best for our goals and for all our members. By leveraging partnerships and seeking to build out strategically, we remain fiscally responsible while working toward this large goal. But, the reality is that some neighborhoods will get service before others. Sometimes, years before. We understand how deeply frustrating that can be, and we want to be open about why this project is developing the way it is.

To help our members understand our current and future plans, we will create a series of maps to show when we project certain areas may have broadband. Be looking for those maps on our website, social media, and more.

Also look to our news page for updates, as well as all the other ways we distribute information, like Facebook. We appreciate your patience as we strive to bring this life-changing infrastructure to the Wiregrass, just like we started doing in 1939.

Les Moreland
CEO Wiregrass Electric Cooperative