For a more detailed account of SMECO’s beginnings, read
The First Fifty Years (1987).
Southern Maryland is among the most prosperous, rapidly growing areas of the state. But older residents of the region can still remember a time when heat and light meant fires and candles, and when water was pumped by hand.
In 1935, Southern Maryland was so sparsely populated that commercial electrical power companies refused to extend service to the area. Too few residents, they said, meant too great an expense for too little profit. So Southern Maryland, like many other rural communities throughout the nation, faced the dim prospect of life without electricity.
In search of electric lighting for their houses and power for their farms and businesses, the region’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.
In 1937, two local committees - one in St. Mary’s County and one from Charles and Prince George’s counties - merged to form the Southern Maryland Tri-County Cooperative Association.
In 1942, the members converted their association into a non-profit membership cooperative corporation and changed the name to Southern Maryland Electric Cooperative, Inc (SMECO). At the time, the company had 438 miles of line. Its members included more than 1,400 families. Electric bills typically averaged five dollars a month.
Today, SMECO provides power to more than 147,000 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.
As taken from “Treasuring the Chesapeake,” Cherbo Publishing, 1996.
Key Dates in SMECO History
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 Member’s 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
With more than 150,000 services in place, SMECO remains one of the ten largest electric co-ops in the nation.