For more than 80 years, Lamar County Electric Cooperative has been providing power to the people of Lamar County and nearby Northeast Texas communities.

Lamar County Electric Cooperative’s long history of providing service in the area dates back to 1938, when the cooperative received its charter as a rural electric distribution cooperative. Shortly thereafter, it became active in the development of an electric system to serve the rural populations of Lamar, Red River and Delta counties.

Co-op systems like the one in Lamar County were first created to provide necessary services in areas that for-profit electric utilities declined to serve, Cooperative General Manager Jerry Williams said.

He said there are two types of electric utilities: integrated traditional utilities and the deregulated market. Lamar County’s cooperative falls under the former classification, Williams said.

“In other words, we secure the best deal we can to buy the energy on the market, we deliver the power, we run the wires, we read the meters and we send the bills. We do everything,” Williams said. “With deregulated companies, all they do is maintain the wires and poles.”

Lamar County Electric Cooperative has 33 employees, roughly half of whom — 15 — are linesmen. Williams credited those linesmen as being the backbone of the company.

“The linemen are the heartbeat of any rural electric cooperative, and they’re first responders,” Williams said. “A lot of people don’t think of linesmen as first responders, but they’re very much first responders; when things go wrong, oftentimes we’re there before lots of other people arrive on the scene, whether that’s an automobile wrecking into a pole, a tree onto power lines, and a lot of times it’s linesmen who clear the roadways after a storm.”

The cooperative provides slightly more than 12,400 miles of line, with an average of five customers per mile of line, Williams said.

“Larger companies, like say Encore, has more like 50 customers per mile of line, so that means we have to be very efficient to have competitive operations.”

Lamar County Electric Cooperative is a member-owned nonprofit, which, Williams said, is good for customers, as it means they know the cooperative is working in their best interest.

“Our owners are all the people who purchase electricity from us in Northeast Texas,” Williams said. “We’re not reporting big stockholders and investors in places like Chicago or New York or wherever. We think we can provide better quality service because of that.

“All decisions are made local, and if something important comes up, we don’t go to some corporate headquarters.

“We want our customers to spend less. We want them to have the least expensive deal possible, and we’re very unique from for-profit providers because of that.”

Not happy with just resting on its laurels, Williams said the local co-op is always looking to improve and provide better service to more people.

“We’re always looking for new ways to help our customers,” he said. “For instance, last year we switched wholesales power supplier, and were able to reduce our rates about 2 cents per kilowatt hour, and then this year we were able to reduce it even more. So, in little ways like that, we’re always trying to look out for our customers.”

Tommy Culkin is a staff writer for The Paris News. He can be reached at 903-785-6972 or at tommy.culkin@theparisnews.com.

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