In the early 1900s, electricity was only available to large urban areas. As communities grew, a few small plants were put into service, but generally excluded the rural population. In July 1912, the Roan Creek Electric Light and Power Co. was formed by citizens of Johnson County, Tennessee to provide electric power to customers in and around Mountain City, Tennessee, from a small hydro plant. Mr. W. W. Worley of Johnson County later purchased the plant about the same time other small electric systems were being built in the area. The Edgar Tufts Memorial Association of Banner Elk, NC built a small hydro plant on the Elk River and furnished power to Grace Hospital, Lees McRae College, and a home for children. Other plants were put in service in Linville, Crossnore, and Elk Park, NC. These plants provided a needed service, but most were limited to a few hours of operation per day.
In 1927, the East Tennessee Light & Power Co. (“ETL&P”) purchased the Roan Creek power plant and included Johnson County in its service area. This company had a franchise to serve Johnson and Carter Counties and part of Avery County, including Newland, NC, but did not construct power lines in the rural areas, leaving many rural residents without electricity.
Then, on April 1, 1941, a small group of farmers and small town residents banned together to form a legally incorporated cooperative, Mountain Electric Cooperative, for the purpose of providing needed electric service to the local rural area.
In 1945, the cooperative purchased the ETL&P. During the same year, the cooperative entered into an agreement with the Tennessee Valley Authority (“TVA”) for the purchase of wholesale power to be generated and delivered to the cooperative’s service area. As the cooperative grew, other small power companies were purchased. In 1947, the Banner Elk power system of Banner Elk, NC owned by the Edgar Tufts Memorial was purchased. In 1949, the Linville Valley Light and Power Co. of Crossnore, NC was purchased. By the end of 1949, Mountain Electric served 4,812 members and provided electricity to its entire service area, which includes primarily Johnson and Carter Counties in Tennessee and Avery County, North Carolina. Small portions of Watauga, Burke, Mitchell and Unicoi counties are also served by the cooperative. At that time, the cooperative implemented the area coverage program that made electric service available to any cooperative member at no extra cost. Under this program, members in remote rural areas would receive electric service at the same cost as members who lived next to an existing line. This opened the door to electric service for everybody in the area.
Through the years, the cooperative has been concerned with improving the quality of life for the people in the communities it serves. The cooperative is actively involved in many programs to do this, including; promoting the area’s resources for economical development, assist in recruiting businesses to the area, providing technical assistance to residential and businesses for improving energy efficiency, participating in a wide range of youth educational programs, providing a home surge protection program and providing a bill round-up program to help raise money to benefit charities and assist those in need in the area.
The latest major project was a power-line carrier Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) system that was completed in late 2009.
An annual educational and membership meeting is held in September each year. This annual meeting provides members information about the condition of the cooperative. The cooperative currently serves approximately 33,953 members. Total Assets are approximately valued at $87,005,503. The cooperative owns and operates over 2,290 miles of distribution line and over 24 miles of transmission 69 kV lines. The service area population is roughly 45,000 and covers a 700 square mile service area. The cooperative employs 79 full-time employees located at three offices, the headquarters in Mountain City, TN, a district office in Newland, NC and a small branch office in Roan Mountain, TN.