On February 22, 2019, Union Power Cooperative will celebrate its 80th anniversary! It’s been an exciting 80 years of growth and progress.
In 1939, when Union Power Cooperative (originally called Union Electric Membership Corporation) was created, rural electrification changed the lives of our members, powering their lives and gaining possibilities they never thought plausible. Fast forward eight decades, and we’ve now become one of the fastest growing electric cooperatives in the nation.
Look back with us as we see the history of Union Power, and dream with us about the future as we continue building a better and brighter foundation for tomorrow.
February 22, 1939
Union Power was founded with humble beginnings, initially serving the vital needs of 362 members with a total of 358 miles of line. A small, but dedicated group of citizens were determined to bring electricity to their farms and residences when investor-owned utilities refused to provide power because they did not ensure immediate profit in rural North Carolina. With engineering and financial assistance from the Rural Electrification Administration, power lines soon stretched across the countryside, connecting homes and farms to electricity that made life easier and more efficient. Farm production increased exponentially, and things like running water, lights, and stored food were made possible. Our communities were forever changed for the better.
Progress was being made in all areas of the Co-op. The first issue of Cooperative Review newsletter was published in April 1947. New members were proud to have their names printed in the monthly newsletter. Membership soared to nearly 5,000 members as the decade came to a close. Because of this growth, the ways of billing by hand ended and billing by machine began.
Union Power outgrew the original Jefferson Street headquarters in Monroe and moved to the Patton Avenue location in 1954. Five new substations were built to continue to service the growing territory, that consisted of more than 7,700 members by the end of the decade. At Union Power’s 1959 Annual Meeting, more than 1,000 members were in attendance and packed out the Benton Height’s School Gymnasium.
During the 1960s, the Cooperative had over 11,000 member accounts. In 1961, Union Power celebrated a huge safety milestone, marking 160,000 man-hours without a lost-time accident. The Co-op had constructed nearly 1,900 miles of line by 1965.
Union Power saw continued membership and system growth into the 1970s. In 1979, the Co-op opened a district office in downtown Oakboro to serve members in Stanly, Cabarrus, and Rowan counties. Membership was up to 17,500.
In 1984, as Union Power had outgrown the Patton Avenue location, the Co-op purchased land and constructed a new headquarters at our current location of 1525 N. Rocky River Road in Monroe. In 1987, meter-reading teams were hired. Until that point, members had read their own meters by filling out meter reading cards and mailing them to the office. In September of 1989, Hurricane Hugo nearly destroyed Union Power’s distribution system. Crews worked for weeks restoring power.
Technology and concern for community were two areas of focus at Union Power in the 90s. In 1991, the Cooperative initiated the use of automated outage reporting, making it more efficient to get the lights back on after power disruption. In 1994, the Co-op began participating in the Bright Ideas Education Grants program, awarding grants to educators in the Co-op’s service territory, along with many other community initiatives to better the lives of the people we serve.
In 2000, the Cooperative officially changed our name to Union Power Cooperative. By 2007, Union Power was growing annually by 6.5 percent and had become one of the fastest-growing electric cooperatives in the nation. By the end of the decade, Union Power served approximately 65,000 members.
In 2017, Union Power touted a 99.99 percent reliability rating, thanks in large part to dedicated resources for maintaining our existing electric system and rights-of-way. Because Union Power’s unparalleled growth, an investment in infrastructure was a top priority. With the addition of several substations and transmission line projects, the Cooperative is able to continue to provide reliable service to more than 76,000 members.
Late 2018, the Co-op broke ground on a new headquarters on the Rocky River campus to be able to adequately serve our membership today and into the future. Our long-range planning forecast predicts our membership will grow to nearly 100,000 members over the next 12 years.
Union Power Cooperative was created 80 years ago to meet a vital need in our region. While growth and change have been plentiful, one thing has remained the same throughout these last 80 years. Union Power continues to provide safe and reliable power with exceptional value.