It began as a small hydropower generating station in Jemez Springs serving three families. On Easter Sunday, 1947, it officially became known as Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative.
Fred Abousleman and his brothers had installed a small generating plant on the Jemez River to provide themselves and a couple neighbors with electricity. It was a small start, but it was city come to country as far as the three families were concerned. Sure, they wound up kicking and screaming at the machine sometimes, but the power they received was an improvement over what they'd had.
Then the brothers were called into service for World War II. They returned home with a vision only to find the old hydropower generator in sad disrepair. "Every little town in Germany had power. They generated power from a river or creek. I made up my mind I was going to have central power from somewhere," Abousleman said.
After approaching the Public Service Company of New Mexico (PNM), the Jemez Springs man found out what rural residents wanting electricity were finding out: big city power suppliers really didn't want to invest in a few outlying rural customers. It was too costly, with too little return.
About the same time, J. Antonio Montoya of San Ysidro was meeting with representatives of the Continental Divide Electric Co-op in Grants to see about extending electric service. The Grants co-op had been founded under the federal Rural Electrification Act of 1936. It provided funding that allowed rural residents to form cooperatives that could provide power to outlying areas. Although Montoya and others met with Congressional delegates at home and in Washington, D.C., the plan seemed to be getting nowhere.
Montoya, Abousleman and other interested citizens from the Cuba and San Ysidro areas eventually met together to make plans for their own cooperative. They signed people up for a $5 membership fee. (That's the same membership fee as today. But remember, it bought a lot more groceries back then.) They incorporated the co-op on April 22, 1948 and went in search of federal funding to build their own power plant and distribution system. They hired an engineer to draw up plans. A crew began installation of the poles and lines. The REA approved a loan for $930,000, most of which was designated to purchase the Inland Utility Company which had been serving the power needs of Espanola area. This significantly expanded the service area of the brand-new Jemez Mountains Electric Cooperative.
The first 11 board members were Abousleman, Montoya, Eric L. Freelove, Walter R. Hernandez, W.E. Culler, Rudy Velarde, Lew Caldwell, Susie B. Dodson, Epifanio Gutierrez, Manuel Miera and Jack Toya.
Board members serve staggered terms. The co-op holds elections for board members from its six districts. Each new board elects officers and the board meets monthly to deal with policies and procedures and the business of the co-op. It is kept updated on the needs of customers and the projects planned to meet those needs. The board prepared for major operations. It expanded the board to 13 to allow for representation from the Espanola area. It hired a general manager and 50 other employees. It relocated headquarters to the Espanola area (which later moved to the present location in Hernandez).
Jemez Springs held a ceremony at the local dance hall for the first day of electric service to its community. After Abousleman finished his speech, he proudly pulled the string that was to turn the light on. The light didn't come on because someone had forgotten to switch on the transformer! However, within minutes that was rectified; the community rejoiced and went home to enjoy the convenience of electrical lights.
Other communities joined the system. More poles and lines were put up and more of southern Rio Arriba County came to light. People were happy to donate their easements because of the future that was quickly coming their way. Co-op line crews sometimes used horses to get to remote locations where lines needed to be strung and poles erected. But as the demand for electricity increased the harder it was for the co-op to provide it. The old diesel generator in Espanola was proving to be insufficient for the growing needs of JMEC customers.
In 1957, JMEC joined 12 other electric co-ops in the state of New Mexico as a part of Plains Generation and Transmission Cooperative. The gas-fired Algodones plant supplied all that JMEC needed. In the early 1980s, Plains built the coal-fired plant at Prewitt that continues to serve New Mexico electric needs.
PNM made an offer to purchase the co-op in 1962 (now that the entire system was set up to serve customers). However, it turned out they only wanted the Espanola area which would be easy to serve out of Santa Fe. The members overwhelmingly turned down the proposal at that year's annual meeting. JMEC continued to grow into the largest co-op in the state, serving consumers in the five counties of Rio Arriba, Santa Fe, San Juan, McKinley and Sandoval.
In 2000, JMEC voted with other members of Plains G&T to merge with Tri-State G&T. Electric prices dropped significantly. This savings was passed on to JMEC customers. The co-op management, board and staff continue to look for ways to keep electric costs down while improving electric service efficiency. The future looks bright, as reliable, low-cost electric service attracts more businesses to the service area. This will provide more jobs for residents, further improving a wonderful way of life.