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Governor Aiken Throws the Switch

Governor Aiken Throws the Switch Generating Washington Electric’s First Electricity on December 2, 1939

From the December 4, 1939 Burlington Free Press and Times:

Aiken Slaps Power Companies Again at Cooperative Dedication Starts Current Over 55 Miles To 155 Families, Praises Courage And Foresight of The Cooperative

(Special to the Free Press)

MONTPELIER Dec. 3.–Dedicating the $25,000 diesel electric power plant of the Washington Electric Cooperative at East Montpelier yesterday, Gov. George D. Aiken slapped the rural electrification policy of private utilities once more and praised the “courage and foresight” of the cooperative.

The governor closed a switch at the power plant which sent electricity into 55 miles of lines built by the cooperative to serve about 150 families of Washington county in East Montpelier Plainfield, Calais, Marshfield and Middlesex. The project, costing $68,000, was financed with Federal funds from the Rural Electrification Administration.

Prices Within Reach
“These lines have been built into territories which private corporations have consistently refused to serve at prices within the reach of the people,” Gov, Aiken declared. “It is probably true that extension of lines into these fanning areas would not immediately pay substantial dividends on inflated valuations. But the cooperative, working under the REA program, does not inflate its capital structure, does not pay high official salaries, does not hire high priced attorneys, does not maintain expensive legislative lobbies, does not pay tribute to holding companies and does not employ high pressure and expensive publicity methods to expound its virtues.

“Therefore,” he added, “it can build its lines into more thinly populated but deserving farming communities, charging only such rates as will meet its legitimate costs and provide for amortizing its indebtedness over a 25-year period.”

The cooperative project will furnish actual necessary cost figures on construction and maintenance of electric lines, “information that to date has been sadly lacking and badly needed,” the governor asserted. “If this line can serve a thinly populated area at certain rates, then there should be no reason whatsoever why utility corporations that have heretofore taken the cream of the distributing area should not have their rates fixed at a commensurate figure,” he said.

Commenting on the anomaly of diesel generated power in a State rich in water power resources, Gov. Aiken said, “it seems incongruous and unjust that any farming community should be denied the right to purchase at wholesale any of that power, except at excessive rates, in a State where hydro-electric energy is generated to such an extent that four-fifths of it is exported.”
Installation of the plant, he declared, “should drive home to all who will see or read the fact that our farmers mean business and will not be bluffed nor seduced into paying, to a privileged few, a tribute on a heritage that rightfully belongs to all Vermonters.”

He foresaw that as a result of the new project, “many farms will become more prosperous; those that have become deserted will be repossessed and once more be the homes of people who love to live in the country.”

Kelley Presides
E. Harmon Kelley, president of the Washington Electric Cooperative, presided at the dedication ceremony which was attended by farmers and their families of this area and REA officials from Washington.

The company gathered first at the new power plant on the Hardwick Road where two diesel engines capable of generating 128 horsepower each were started. The room has space for four more engines of the same capacity which will be set up later, it is expected, as the business expands. As president of the co-operative, E.H. Kelley of East Montpelier, presided at the exercises and introduced the speakers.

Adjournment was made to Village Hall for the remainder of the exercises and many could find only standing room, so large was the company present. Among the speakers were Dr. Robert Craig, assistant administrator, R. E. A., C. A. Winder, director, department of engineering, R. E. A., who told briefly of the movement of the R. E. A. project throughout the country and the benefits it was bringing to the residents of rural areas; and Capt. Clarke Millen, the R.E.A. engineer who has been supervising engineer under the R.E.A., and who is to be retained as resident engineer for the co-operative. A.M. Blakeney, Jr., assistant chief of the wiring utilization section of the R. E. A., furnished some practical suggestions to those engaged in wiring their homes and farm buildings, designed to protect them from poor and faulty wiring and material.

Movies Shown
Moving pictures were shown of the history of the Mississippi River, the forests that originally grew along its banks, their destruction, the consequent soil erosion, the building of power dams that followed, and their function in utilities development, to the present  case of the Washington Electric Co-operative.

Music was contributed to the exercises by Henry Ebbett of  Montpelier Center, violinist, and Virgil McCarthy of  Barre, who played the guitar. The two young men also sang. One of the hits of the day was an improvisation by Mr. McCarthy on the parody of the “Old Oaken Bucket”, starting with the lines, “There’s a hole in the rusty old lantern,” and describing the end of that flickering illumination now that better days had come with electricity.

Hot doughnuts, cheese and coffee were served free to the gathering furnished by the Parent-Teacher Association. From the merchants of the surrounding cities and towns had been sent an array of electrical appliances that were of great interest to the visitors and there were representatives of the firms to explain the advantages of the tools on display. Practically every one present inspected the plant before leaving.