Cypress Rural Electrification Association

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Cypress Rural Electrification Association

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Dates of existence

1953-1993

History

The Cypress Rural Electrification Association Limited (CREAL) had its first organizational meeting, which was standing room only, on January 28, 1953 in the Medicine Hat City Hall annex thanks to the assistance of Mayor Harry Veiner. Mr. Fred Gale from Calgary Power informed the group that the initial cost per farm would be in the $1500-1600 range. When a call for interest was requested every hand in the room went up. Before the meeting was over a provisional board had been elected with A.H. Anderson as president and Ted Herman as secretary. Post World War II optimism was evident in rural Alberta. The prospect of electrification captured the imagination of the populace hoping to experience some of the conveniences of modern living and increase agricultural production. Without electrification the coal oil lantern and the battery operated wind charger provided a pitiable substitute to the benefits enjoyed by those having up to date electric service. The massive task of connecting the nearly 100,000 farms in rural Alberta required government legislation and the Co-operative Associations and the Rural Electrification Revolving Fund Acts were ratified. This set in motion the establishment of the Rural Electrification Associations (the REAs), across Alberta. The franchise area for CREAL was divided into four zones encompassing 811 farms. The boundaries were basically south of Seven Persons to the American border, east to the Saskatchewan border and north to the South Saskatchewan River crossing, and then diagonally back to Medicine Hat following the river. Like all REAs, the CREAL organization was built on a solid foundation of volunteer member teamwork. A network of unpaid workers consisting of area captains, promoters and volunteers went into action to sign up members. Many impromptu meetings were held in locations though out the area. In the crucial early years of 1953-55 rural telephones in S.E. Alberta were non-existent, which increased the importance of meetings. As well the poor overall road conditions required canvassers to go on horseback many miles selling contracts. In order to minimize the average overall cost it was necessary to sign up the greatest number of farmers to buy into the REA. Although there was strong general support for electrification it took a considerable amount of perseverance to convince some farmers that it was worthwhile even with the guaranteed low interest long term financing that was provided by the government legislation. For some who had recently purchased electric wind chargers with batteries, appliances and tools the timing of buying into the REA was inopportune. For most though the initial contract price of $1565.00, with a down payment of $265.00 and the balance at 3.5% over 20 years proved to be an acceptable deal. Most farmers were convinced the time was right and many cream cheques, egg money and single dollar bills were put together to make up the $265.00 down payment. Once the contracts were sold the big job of the actual on the ground construction had to be accomplished. To assist REAs with the construction Farm Electric Services Ltd. a non-profit branch of Calgary Power was established. Their familiar yellow and black vehicles were a mainstay in rural Alberta for many years. To keep costs down and speed the arrival of electric service, farmers would often be out clearing land, digging holes and attaching pole hardware before the crews even arrived. So great was the excitement and desire for electrification there were petitions from some areas pleading to be hooked up before the end of the fall construction season. After the initial construction phase of 1953-57, CREAL like many REAs focused on maintaining its infrastructure, administering the repayment of member loans and supplying continuous electric power at the lowest cost. Some members chose to pay off their contracts early, while others kept to the original loan terms. Other milestones in the history of CREAL were the 1983 introduction of three phase power which boosted the productivity of many rural communities and farms. In 1984 Bert Hargrave reintroduced wind generation on his farm and negotiated with the power company to integrate spare production back into the electric grid. In the early 1990's CREAL joined forces with the Electric Energy Marketing Board that oversaw equalization of electric rates across rural Alberta to assist northern farmers who had been paying a much higher rate than elsewhere. The late 1970s and 1980s also saw the dissolution of many Alberta REA's. The primary reasons for this trend were financial, as associations were being overwhelmed with spiraling maintenance and replacement costs. A typical farm system that had cost $800 to set up in the 1950's was costing $8000 twenty years later. Reserve funds that were established to pay for system replacements were discovered to be too small in the post 1970's inflation era and long term sustainability was being affected. Other arguments were bearing in on the rationality of REAs as it was debated that since electric rates were government regulated there was no need for individual associations. Additionally Power Companies such as Transalta Utilities appeared to offer a better service because of lower administration costs and streamlined decision making. There was some opposition to the sale of REA's claiming that the power companies were simply acquiring equipment and land easements at bargain prices. The proposal to sell the CREAL was slow to be received as several purchase offers were declined in 1987, 91 and 92 before acceptance in 1993. Subsequent to the sale the association was disbanded. Consolidation was an alternative to selling and through out Alberta numerous REA's chose to go this route. At the time of this writing in 2004 several Large REA's are still functioning.

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