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Friday, October 16, 2009

Public Option That Still Works: Rural Electric Cooperatives

Hat tip to Rebecca Blood, who points us toward a pointed essay by freelance writer Bob Simmons from Bellingham, Washington, on the public option... for electricity:

Electrical service had not yet penetrated the hills of rural Southern Iowa. Everyone wanted it, Hell yes. We yearned for it. The investor-owned power company wouldn't sell it to us. Analogous to millions who today can't get health care insurance (another thing we did without) we were disqualified by pre-existing conditions: We were farmers and we were poor. We might not use enough power. We might not pay our bills [Bob Simmons, "How FDR Enacted His 'Public Option'," Crosscut.com, 2009.09.08].

So in came the rural electric cooperatives, a result not of slow, deliberate Congressional bipartisanship, but a unilateral executive order by a determined President who said of conservative animosity to the evils of government action, essentially, Bring it on!

And omigawd were they [the rural electric cooperatives] evil. Socialistic, un-American, undermining the very fabric of democracy. Legislators, businessmen, members of Congress, editorial page editors all over the country railed at the specter of Big Government shouldering into private enterprise, when everyone knew Government couldn't do it right.

Most infuriating of all, government did it right. The cooperatives became the pricing yardstick for electrical power. Investor-owned utilities had to lower their rates to compete. In four years, the cost of installing a mile of rural power line dropped from $2,000 to $600. In 2007, 72 years after FDR created the public option, customers using public power nationwide reportedly paid 17 percent less than those served by privately-owned utilities (according to the American Public Power Association, not necessarily a neutral source) [Simmons, 2009].

Anyone else see a connection between rural electrification and universal health coverage? And might President Obama take a lesson from FDR in how to get the job done?

1 comment:

  1. Sreve Sibson10/17/2009 8:28 AM

    See William Chandler's book, "The Myth of TVA" to learn that Tennessee lagged the rest of nearby states in economic development over the 50 years that passed after FDR's TVA.


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