Up until the mid-1980s, People’s Electric Cooperative felt outgunned by Oklahoma Gas & Electric (OG&E) every time a new company in town asked for a bid. But then the Ada, Okla.-based distribution system got a new weapon: a transmission line that ran right through a new industrial park. No longer would the wholesale power that People’s Electric purchased from Western Farmers Electric Cooperative be wheeled by the big investor-owned utility.

No longer could OG&E tell the co-op it didn’t have any available capacity for a new load and then turn around and serve that customer itself.

Solo Cup Company Plant Construction in Ada, OK
Solo Cup Company plant construction in Ada, Okla. (Photo courtesy People’s Electric Cooperative)

In 1987, the Solo Cup Company was looking at building a second manufacturing plant either in Ada or in South Carolina. OG&E officials assumed that if Solo chose Ada, they’d get the 3,500-kW load because the existing plant was already a customer.

But the co-op’s bid came in lower than OG&E’s, and its proposal for providing the uninterruptable service Solo sought was more convincing.

Oklahoma’s service territory law allowed open competition for loads above 1,000 kW, but OG&E officials argued that the new Solo plant was really just an addition to the existing account. When the co-op stood its ground, OG&E asked the Oklahoma Corporation Commission to decide.

People’s Electric members read about the standoff in the co-op’s monthly newsletter, and 200 members and employees showed up for the hearing in Oklahoma City, an 85-mile drive. They wore bright orange People’s Electric ball caps and carried folding lawn chairs so they’d be sure to get a seat in the small hearing room.

Several members testified. One noted that the new load would mean 150 good jobs for Ada and a $10-ayear savings for every residential account. Another quipped, “When God said, ‘Let there be light,’ he didn’t say it had to be OG&E.”

Solo Vice President Leo Carter said his company “liked the overall friendly attitude of People’s Electric,” then he shot the legs out from under OG&E when he explained that the new plant was a completely separate operation that could be located elsewhere. “It was not a question of People’s or OG&E, but rather People’s or South Carolina.”

The commission ruled 3–0 in the co-op’s favor.

David went up against Goliath again two years later. This time the “customer choice” loads were a hospital and a surgical supplies manufacturer named Look, Inc. In both cases, OG&E tried to muscle the co-op out of the way by building service lines before a contract was awarded.

The tactic backfired when the hospital ordered an OG&E underground construction crew off its property. Then, after OG&E started setting poles near Look, Inc.’s site, People’s Electric Operations Manager John Hudson dispatched a crew to do the same. Ada had awarded the right-of- way to the co-op, but a loophole in the law created a kind of squatter’s right.

The OG&E crew knocked off at 5 p.m., but the People’s Electric linemen worked past midnight, until they reached a point where OG&E couldn’t block the co-op from serving Look, Inc. A month later, the surgical supplier signed a service contract with People’s Electric.

Hudson told RE Magazine in the summer of 1989: “We found out, sure enough, you can win against the big guys.”
People’s Powerline – May 1987 – “Justice Prevails! PEC Awarded Solo Cup”

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