Tri-County Electric Association (TCEA)
It took about 20 years for TCEA to become an overnight success. Farmers and ranchers discussed alternatives for years before they were able to come up with a plan to launch TCEA in June 1945. As was the case with many electric cooperatives in the Great Plains, distance was a big hurdle. The REA denied the initial loan application because there weren’t enough members signed up in Campbell, Crook, and Weston counties – about 1,000 members over 1,200 miles of line.
REA officials settled on a scaled-back plan to run a power line from the WYODAK power plant at Gillette to Moorcroft, Upton, and Sundance. TCEA planners had a multi-phase build-out plan in mind.
Although the towns of Moorcroft and Sundance agreed to join the cooperative, Upton declined under pressure from “public utilities.”
Despite early hurdles, TCEA began to grow in membership as local farms and ranches began plugging in to the convenience of electricity.
Industrial loads were modest compared to today. Bentonite plants and oil fields in Weston County were the primary users. Finances were tight and TCEA struggled to meet its obligations during its first decade.
However in the 1950s, new oil fields began to grow in the TCEA territory and line construction to these oil fields connected ranches and farms along the way. The cooperative was back on its feet financially.
Large oil companies were members of TCEA and the once-struggling cooperative was now one of the fastest-growing distribution coops in the nation.
But there was more. In the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, the world turned its eyes toward coal as a viable power generation fuel. The layer of coal in Campbell county was just waiting to be extracted. TCEA was perfectly positioned to sell power to the coal mines that were just turning the first shovels of dirt in Campbell County.
The coal boom not only brought industrial development, it also drew thousands of new residential customers to the rugged landscape.
With the sizeable power sales, TCEA became a cutting-edge cooperative adopting some of the most modern methods of outage management, record-keeping, and engineering.
TCEA’s forward-looking attitude brought it to the table with S-J REA and the merger deal was sealed within two years.