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Electricity Goes to the Country

Morris Llewellyn Cooke

Administrator, Rural Electrification Authority

September 1936

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This part of the REA program widens the social and economic significance of the rural lines. By opening up a new and extensive market for electrical and plumbing manufacturers and trades, through interesting the farmer's purchasing power, REA gives labor and industry a large share in its program. Electrical and plumbing supply agencies will be eager to discover what equipment the farmer really needs, and the market will be large enough to encourage the development of new types of apparatus. The farmers will reap the benefits of group wiring and plumbing installation by contract. Often the cooperative will be found to be helpful in purchasing the new equipment, since it has already proved highly satisfactory in other undertakings.

In the construction and operation of lines as well as in the utilization field REA welcomes cooperative action. It will continue to do this in the belief that cooperative undertakings are enterprise in the best sense of the word.

To foster and assist cooperative groups, REA will offer advice through the various departments. Suggestions as to organization, methods of accounting, home demonstration projects, engineering practices, will be at the disposal of these goups. As the program broadens, neighboring cooperatives may find it economical and effective to pool their efforts and statewide cooperatives, such as exist today in Indiana and Ohio, will develop. The immediate and tangible results will be to bring electricity to a large proportion of American farms, to stimulate employment and manufacturing, and to raise living standards in rural communities. The intangible values—building self-reliance and training leaders in every community—should prove no less satisfying.

Not through the mechanism of cooperatives alone, however, does REA hope to bring forward leaders in the rural electrification movement. An integral part of the ten-year program will be the training of student engineers for this type of work. Properly qualified young men having a public point of view will be given opportunity to do practical field work in connection with REA projects. They will, of course, be paid for their services, while at the same time they will be acquiring first-hand experience in a most promising branch of electrical enterprlse.

Farms Receiving Central Station Electricity
This 1935 map dramatizes the opportunity that faces the farmer, the electric industry and the REA, as the ten-year program of electrification gets under way

Another important way in which REA seeks to contribute to electrical progress is through stimulating research. Its own efforts will doubtless be confined to immediate practical problems, such as the attack on reducing line costs. Similarly, REA will work toward increasing line efficiency, integrating small systems into something like a "grid," and giving farmers the results of experiments and demonstrations in electrifying farm operations. Electrical manufacturing corporations like General Electric and Westinghouse are already well equipped to carry on other types of research as are also certain of the government bureaus.

The company laboratories have the facilities for experimenting with new equipment for better and cheaper generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity. Various government agencies are qualified to test equipment and to investigate the value of electricity for such purposes as heating, sterilizing, and fertilizing soil. Numerous experiments on the effect of artificial light on plant growth are already under way. Electric heating and air cooling of greenhouses with a single type of apparatus may soon prove practicable. Insect and pest control, sterilization of feed, and innumerable other applications of electricity to agriculture are in various stages of experimentation.

REA will cooperate with public and private groups engaged in such research. Thus it hopes to become a clearing house for new suggestions as they go to the laboratory and for new applications after their value has been tested. So far we have considered the ten-year electrification plan as a thing in itself. Actually, however, it is part of the comprehensive program envisioned in the National Resources Board report. Farm electrification, by providing an essentially new market for almost unlimited tluantities of power, makes its contribution to the justification for development of our great water resources for public hydroelectric projects. Modern engineering science has made the multiple purpose dam a reality. Such a dam may impound flood waters, provide irrigation and water supply reservoirs, regulate stream flow, and generate electricity.

But in areas where we do not ordinarily build great clamsăthe lands of little headwater streamsărural electrification can also make a significant contribution to the solving of flood and land use problems. Hundreds of tiny upstream dams, automatically controlled by electricity, might be so developed as to regulate stream flow. Waters that usually rush off the land can be held by improved farming practices such as strip cropping and contour plowing. The same methods retard erosion and so lessen the dangers of exhausted land and of silt-destroyed dams.

REA carefully studies the land use problems of its project areas, to avoid setting up lines in marginal or submarginal regions from which the population should, and doubtless will, move. But electricity can do as much toward intensifying agriculture for us as it has done for France, so that smaller areas will become capable of supporting more people. This means that we shall be able gradually to withdraw unsuitable lands from cultivation. It means, too, that scattered farms, with their disproportionate expense to county, state and federal governments for schools and roads, will tend to be eliminated.

Improved living conditions will partly check migration from farm to farm and from farm to city. Conservation of the soil will go hand in hand with the establishment of a permanent farm home, the constant improvement of which will then become a source of pride. It is even possible that with the advent of cheap and abundant power throughout the countryside, industry itself may show a tendency to decentralize. Whether this occurs or not, electricity will add immeasurahly to the comfort, convenience, and profit of farming. In so far as it contributes to the social and economic stability of our agriculture, the rural electrification movement in America may will claim a national victory.

Power of the People

IFTY nations are sending 3000 experts to the Third World Power Conference to be held in Washington, September 7 to 12, jointly sponsored and financed by the government and the electric industry. Engineers, economists, public officials, corporation heads, spokesmen for labor and consumer are to participate in study and discussion of the forces that turn the factory wheels, make possible the light and heat, the comforts and conveniences of the world's power civilization.

While the Washington meeting will carry forward the general study of the two preceding conferences, London (1924) and Berlin (1930), and of interim sectional meetings, it will stress not the purely technical side of power, but national power economy in terms of its human advantages and hazards, its problems of organizing, planning, managing and controlling power. Elaborate conference exhibit, planned to interest both layman and technician, illustrate the latest developments in producing and using power.

Both before and after the meeting visitors from other countries may take "study tours" which will show them Niagara, Boulder Dam, TVA and practically every other method and center of power production, transmission and utilization in this country. The present effort to bring America abreast of other nations in extending electrical power from cities to farms and rural communities is here discussed by the engineer who heads the Rural Electrification Administration and who is also chairman of the executive committee of the forthcoming Third World Power Conference.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003