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Clay Electric releases video marking first 75 years

DAN HILDEBRAN

Monitor Editor

Clay Electric has released a video that commemorates the organization’s first 75 years.

The 28-minute presentation begins with Franklin Roosevelt’s creation of the Rural Electric Authority in 1939 and traces the growth of the co-op through the mid- 1970s.

The film also offers insights into the history of Keystone Heights, including the marketing of the area in the 1920s by the Lawrence Developing Company and the real estate developer’s attempt to establish electric service within the city.

According to the video, the developer soon sold its small power plant to one of its employees, Ed Wiggins of Green Cove Springs.  Under Wiggins’ management, the system grew to over 100 miles of line, stretching from Keystone Heights to Florahome and Lake Rosa.  However, a lack of capital hindered Wiggins from growing further.  After rebuffing a buyout offer from Florida Power and Light and getting an unsatisfactory response from Rural Electrification Administration officials in Washington, Wiggins asked Congressman Lex Green of Starke to intervene.  Soon an REA official surveyed Wiggins’ system. The Washington official told Wiggins that to get a federal loan he would have to serve every family in the area, a proposal that went beyond the businessman’s vision for his enterprise.  According to the video, the REA representative suggested to Wiggins that he consider forming a cooperative to take on the task and Wiggins agreed to the idea.  The two men appeared on a WRUF radio talk show to promote the idea and soon Wiggins was part of an organizing committee to form the co-op.  However the Great Depression took the momentum out of the committee’s work, and it disbanded during the downturn.  Wiggins, however, pressed on, going door-to-door in the six-county region signing up potential members.  With membership commitments in hand, he traveled to Washington to pitch his request for a loan and received preliminary approval.

Wiggins then returned to Florida and began organizing the co-op, which held its first meeting in December 1937.  Two months later the REA approved the co-op’s first loan for $205,000.

World War II stalled the organization’s growth because of a lack of materials, but following the conflict, the co-op again started to grow.

The co-op operated two generating stations, one in Keystone Heights and one in Worthington Springs from the 1940s until 1968. As demand grew, the co-op brokered deals for wholesale power with Florida Power and Light and Florida Power Corporation.

FPL remained Clay Electric’s primary wholesale supplier until the Arab oil embargo of 1973. The cutoff of oil drove wholesale power costs to the point that Clay and the other 13 electric co-ops in Florida decided to start generating their own power.  The 14 cooperatives formed Seminole Electric Cooperative and began construction of a plant north of Palatka in 1975.

The co-op opened its first branch office in Orange Park in 1964.  Three years later, Clay Electric had established district offices in Gainesville, Lake City and Palatka.

The video chronicles the co-op’s improvements in technology and sterling safety record.

It features photographs and footage of the co-op’s early years and expansion.  The video also features interviews with former General Manager Tommy Millican,  current General Manager Ricky Davis, Trustees Angus Hastings, Jo Ann Smith and Susan Reeves, retirees Willis Chester and Billy Stanley, Member Relations Representative John Bennett and longtime members Gladys Copeland, Billy Nettles, Daniel Martinez and Al Kunz.

Clay Electric’s member and public relations department produced the video.  Internet users can find the presentation on Youtube.com by searching for Clay Electric 75th Commemorative video.

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