Garrison Dam, North Dakota

Distribution cooperatives

Every electric distribution cooperative has its own story of how it came into existence. Many of these stories have their origin in rural people banding together to improve quality of life through access to affordable electric power.

Rural electric cooperatives were formed locally and many of them initially purchased power from private power companies, such as investor-owned utilities (IOUs) or municipals. The rural demand for electricity grew steadily.

Motivation for Missouri River dams

The construction of Missouri River Dams to make electricity and control flooding was promoted for years by President Franklin D. Roosevelt (FDR) and studied by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, but it took the flood of 1943 (estimated damage: $26 million) to convince Congress to take action and build the dams. With the exception of Fort Peck (a Depression Era project), the Missouri River dams were built in the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s and were the main source of power for regional distribution cooperatives.

Why G&Ts were formed

Many existing G&Ts have similar reasons for why and how they were formed: (1) to supply generation and transmission for distribution cooperatives, and (2) to manage Federal power contracts. Federal allocations for electric co-ops were determined in the late 1950s and adjusted during the 1960s. Allocations were determined by the amount of electric load each co-op had at that time.

The year was 1958

As distribution cooperatives and G&Ts continued to thrive, things began to change in the late 1950s. The government told electric cooperatives they would be responsible for creating their own generation for any needs above and beyond power from the dams.

Giant Power Cooperative

Responding to Leland Olds' vision of a regional power supplier, East River Electric and ten other power supply systems created the Giant Power Cooperative on Oct. 4, 1960 - the precursor to Basin Electric. Giant Power Cooperative developed a 10-year plan (1965 - 1975) for securing power supply. The plan identified two possible sites for construction of a power plant: Garrison, North Dakota and Vermillion, South Dakota.

Leland Olds

While many G&Ts across the country began planning construction of small generation units to supply power for their distribution cooperatives, a man named Leland Olds, a Federal Power Commissioner under FDR, had a radically different idea. He spoke publicly to cooperatives about abandoning the idea of building smaller generation facilities to provide power for individual G&Ts, and endorse the construction of a large or "super G&T." This regional G&T could build huge, coal-fired power plants that would provide power for an entire region of the country.