A Brief History of the Powell Valley Electric Cooperative
On September 6, 1938, finding their ability to access lifesaving electric power frustratingly limited, a group of citizens came together to organize an electric cooperative. The group consisted of John Reasor of Big Stone Gap, W. W. Jessee of Dryden, Mrs. B. T., Young of Duffield, Loran Roop of Jonesville, Davis L. McNiel of Jonesville, James Quillen of Ocoonita and Rhea D. Hyatt of Rose Hill.
They knew that, as an electric cooperative, Powell Valley Electric Cooperative (PVEC) had the right to buy power from the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) at reduced rates and could secure federal loans from the Rural Electrification Administration (REA) to install transmission lines throughout Lee County and surrounding areas. PVEC applied and was granted a loan for $150,000 from the REA to start the work.
A short 14 months later the lives of rural Lee County residents would be changed forever. By November 4, 1939, electric lights dotted the countryside and the lives of Lee County residents were changed forever. Initially there were 134 members of the cooperative, and within a 10 day period that figure increased to 280. By the time the first meter was read on December 20, 1939, the number leaped to 340 members. PVEC continued to expand its service area into Scott and Wise Counties in Virginia and Claiborne, Hancock, Hawkins, Grainger and Union counties in Tennessee.
In the early 1960s, the cities of Tazewell and New Tazewell were purchasing power from Kentucky Utility Company (KU). The cities’ officials found that they were paying rates approximately two-and-one-half times more for power than rates offered by TVA. They knew that they could get TVA wholesale rates by purchasing power from PVEC.
The two towns decided to set up their own municipal electric system to purchase power from PVEC at wholesale rates and re-distribute it. Establishment of a municipal system began by disconnecting KU’s line to several of its consumers and reconnecting them to PVEC.
This activity soon ended when KU filed suit (Hardin v. Kentucky Utilities) against Tennessee Valley Authority on October 15, 1964, saying these actions were a conspiracy to destroy its Tazewell business. KU initially won the suit but it was appealed all the way to the US Supreme Court where KU finally lost on January 16, 1968. The cities of Tazewell and New Tazewell were then able to resume their plan to purchase power from PVEC.
Powell Valley Electric, like other cooperatives, is a nonprofit entity, that buys its power from the Tennessee Valley Authority and distributes it across Scott, Lee, and Wise Counties in Virginia, and Claiborne, Hancock, Hawkins, Grainger, and Union Counties in Tennessee. Since its incorporation in the state of Virginia in 1938, PVEC has extended over 3,500 miles of transmission lines through Northeastern Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia. This region covers nine districts with three offices in New Tazewell, Tennessee; Sneedville, Tennessee; and Jonesville, Virginia. Each district has a board representative that is elected by the membership at the Annual Meeting every year; New Tazewell serves as its operational headquarters.
As to governance, board members serve for three years, but can be reelected with no term limits. The Board hires and manages the CEO, which in turn hires and manages staff. But the members elect the Board of Directors! They are meant to represent the voice of the people. PVEC is ultimately intended to function as a democratic structure -that is, owned and regulated by the member-owners. All bylaws under which the cooperative is required to operate can be found in its publicly available Member Handbook.