In 2015, Michigan’s electric cooperatives sent ten linemen to Buena Vista, Guatemala. They worked side-by-side with local residents to bring electricity to the remote, mountainous village. When work was completed, the community celebrated together as electric lights came on for the very first time. That moment marked the beginning of new opportunities and a new future for the 54 families that call Buena Vista home.
We’re currently considering another project for 2019, bringing power to two small communities in Bolivia. These opportunities come out of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA) International Program. For more than 50 years, NRECA has developed and implemented electrification programs across the globe, and brought electricity to more than 126 million people in 43 developing counties. The work is supported by charitable donations of time, money and materials from more than 300 electric cooperatives across the country.
Electric co-ops know a thing or two about bringing electricity to people who don’t have it. After all, it was the co-ops who brought electricity to rural America when no one else would.
Our conversations about Bolivia come on the heels of a milestone celebration in our own history of rural electrification. On July 30, 1938, Fruit Belt Electric Cooperative energized its first lines, bringing long-awaited electric service to 133 consumers in rural southwest Michigan. We celebrated that anniversary both as a nod to the past, but also a celebration of the present and future as we continue to transform life and living in the rural space.
We’ve powered rural homes and businesses in our service territory for 80 years, and today serve nearly 36,000 consumers across southern Michigan and northern Indiana and Ohio. But ours is not a status quo approach. Operating under our vision of creating vibrant, relevant, sustainable rural communities, we continue to transform your rural experience by investing in our grid to add layers of value to your service experience. That investment also is allowing us to offer the most advanced communication platform available: fiber internet. Some argue that high-speed internet is as important today as electricity; we’re reliving our mission from 80 years ago and stepping up to bring this critical service to the rural space where others won’t.
I’ve often wondered what it was like to sit in a rural farmhouse in 1938 and experience electric lights for the first time, although I get a sense of that excitement when folks share their first true high-speed internet experience. We’re transforming rural life, right in our own community and thousands of miles across the globe as we live out our vision of creating vibrant, relevant and sustainable rural communities.