For a more detailed account of SMECO’s first 75 years, buy a copy of Lighting Up Our Lives: The History of Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, written by Al Gough, Jr., or download a copy.
Also, you can read The First Fifty Years (1987).
In 1935, Southern Maryland was so sparsely populated that commercial electric power companies refused to extend service to the area. Like many other rural communities throughout the nation, the region faced the dim prospect of life without electricity.
In search of electric lighting for their homes, farms, and businesses, Southern Maryland’s residents took matters into their own hands. They formed local committees to seek federal assistance through the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), created in 1936 as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal.
Today, SMECO provides power to more than 165,000 services, but it remains a cooperative corporation, owned by its members and operated for them on a non-profit basis. Rates are based on the cost of doing business. Surplus income, if any, is returned to the members through Capital Credits.
Key Dates in SMECO History:
Lineman Frank Norris served SMECO for almost 40 years.
On May 11, President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 7037 establishing the Rural Electrification Administration (REA).
On February 5, the “Southern Maryland Tri-County Cooperative Association” was incorporated. Later, the name was changed to Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, Inc.
SMECO’s generating plant at Popes Creek, Maryland, was energized, initially serving 400 families.
At the Members’ Annual Meeting, members voted to formally convert the association into a cooperative non-profit membership corporation titled Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, Incorporated.
In April, Co-op power was extended into Calvert County with the purchase of the electric lines owned by the Eastern Shore Public Service Company. Also, the Co-op began to purchase power from the Potomac Electric Power Company (Pepco), an investor-owned utility.
District offices opened in Calvert and St. Mary’s counties.
The generating plant at Popes Creek closed and all power was bought from Pepco.
A Charles - Prince George’s District Office opened in White Plains. (Closed in 2013.)
Shawn Harley, left, and Harry Sanders perform line work circa 1989.
Forrest Coakley retired after serving as General Manager since 1938; Walter H. Smith became General Manager.
SMECO connected its 50,000th meter.
New St Mary’s Office opened in Leonardtown.
New Calvert District Office opened in Prince Frederick. (Closed in 2014.)
New Headquarters Office opened in Hughesville.
SMECO introduced the Load Management program, which initially involved about 200 homes.
Walter Smith retired; Wayne Swann was appointed Executive Vice President and General Manager. Construction began on SMECO’s 77-megawatt combustion turbine generating facility located at Pepco’s Chalk Point Generating Station.
A centralized call center was established, along with a Key Accounts program for commercial customers.
SMECO celebrated its 60th anniversary with over 112,000 services in place. In one major project, the Co-op and a contractor bored below Mill Creek in Calvert County to enhance service to Maryland’s fastest growing county.
SMECO participated in Maryland Public Service Commission roundtable discussions on customer choice issues. The Co-op also outsourced our information services area through Intellisouce, Inc.
SMECO helped to pass the Electric Customer Choice and Competition Act of 1999.
Following Hurricane Isabel in 2003, SMECO employees worked around the clock to restore power.
The Cooperative completed discussions to form the Mid-Atlantic Cooperative Services (MACS) with Choptank Electric Cooperative of Denton, Maryland, and Adams Electric Cooperative of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.
SMECO offered Customer Choice to its largest commercial customers on January 1st; all remaining customers became eligible for Choice on November 1st.
Wayne Swann retired; Joe Slater was appointed President and Chief Executive Officer. In September, Hurricane Isabel knocked out electricity to more than half of SMECO’s customers. Together with utility workers from seven states, the Co-op had power restored to 98 percent of its customers in five days.
SMECO began purchasing power on the competitive open market with the assistance of ACES Power Marketing.
A simulated emergency evaluated SMECO’s readiness for dealing with events that pose risks to utilities. These include loss of computer systems and data, damage to buildings, shortages of supplies, fires, cyber attacks, pandemics, and biological attacks.
Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley visits SMECO’s Hughesville headquarters to learn about the Cooperative’s power buying strategy. SMECO expanded its use of technology to improve service, installing a new customer information system and a mobile workforce management system.
SMECO launched the Southern Maryland Reliability Project to upgrade its transmission capacity and improve the system’s reliability. J.D. Power and Associates recognized the Cooperative as a top award recipient in the Electric Utility Residential Customer Satisfaction Survey.
SMECO and the U.S. Navy signed an agreement to privatize three facilities in Southern Maryland. For the next 50 years, SMECO will be responsible for the electric systems at Patuxent River Naval Air Station in Lexington Park, Webster Field in St. Inigoes, and the Navy Recreation Center in Solomons.
The Engineering and Operations Center was completed in 2013.
Construction began on a new energy-efficient building at the Hughesville headquarters. We launched the Members Helping Members program to help less fortunate Co-op members pay their electric bills.
More than 108,800 of SMECO’s customer-members lose power when Hurricane Irene strikes Southern Maryland. The Co-op installed 1,900 smart meters in Waldorf and at three Navy installations.
SMECO expanded its commitment to renewable energy with the SMECO Solar LLC 5.5-megawatt solar generation station in Hughesville. The Mehoopany Wind Farm in Pennsylvania also came on line, with the Co-op pledged to purchase a fifth of the farm’s 141-megawatt output.
SMECO finished construction of the new Engineering and Operations Center in Hughesville. The 165,000 square-foot building houses the contact center and operations center, and supports construction crews for SMECO’s Central Region along with apparatus crews, security personnel, engineering and operations personnel, and master stores. Designed to meet LEED’s platinum standard for green buildings, the building is energy-efficient, employee-friendly, and hurricane-proof.
The 230-kV transmission loop through Southern Maryland was completed on November 3.
The 230-kV loop was tested and performed as designed when a major Pepco equipment failure disrupted power from Southern Maryland to the White House.
SMECO members voted to convert the annual meeting to a business meeting with all voting being managed through the mail.
Smart meters were fully deployed by November. SMECO’s advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) enables the Co-op to remotely read the meters, monitor the voltage, and detect outages. The meters help SMECO improve customer service and save money by reducing operational expenses.
SMECO’s online Account Manager was upgraded to display energy use data obtained from smart meters.
SMECO adapted quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic, transitioning 241 on-site employees to teleworkers and revising work processes to ensure social distancing. The first of the SMECO EV Recharge stations for electric vehicles went into operation in Leonardtown.
With more than 169,000 services in place, SMECO is among the largest electric co-ops in the nation.