When it came to electricity, the nation was once one of the haves and have-nots, according to history posted on Mountain View Electric Association's website.
American's rural residents were the have-nots.
In the early part of the 20th century, investor-owned utilities sprang up to serve the big cities. "But they didn't go out into the rural areas," said Jim Herron, chief executive officer of Mountain View Electric. "It wasn't worth their time."
Then came the Rural Electrification Administration in the mid-1930s, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, and the subsequent passage of the Rural Electrification Act, which made federal loans available to people banded together in cooperatives ready to power rural America. Incorporated in 1941, Mountain View was "one of the later ones to come to the party," Herron said.
Today, Mountain View is among about a thousand electric distribution cooperatives in the country.
Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association, a wholesale supplier of electricity and a cooperative itself, provides the electricity; Mountain View gets it to where it is needed. Mountain View, with offices in Limon and Falcon (plus a small, two-person office in Monument), serves portions of eight counties within a 5,000-square-mile territory.
Herron has been with Mountain View for 23 years. The big story during those years: growth, from about 25,000 meters when he started to more than 55,000 today. Most of that growth has been in El Paso County.
But when Mountain View began, the growth was more in Limon, which is the headquarters for the co-op. Herron lives in Limon, but the commute to Falcon is a familiar one; he spends the vast majority of his time at the Falcon office, he said. Out of 145 employees, 110 are in Falcon.
Herron grew up in the tiny town of Grady in eastern New Mexico; his graduating class in high school numbered only 10. After high school, he worked for the Clovis Fire Department along with a contractor doing jobs for Farmers' Electric Cooperative. Three years out of high school, he decided to pursue college and went off to Eastern New Mexico University to earn a degree in finance and accounting. The contractor job, meanwhile, led to a part-time job at the co-op, then a full-time one. He rose through the ranks from part-time warehouse worker to general manager before getting the Mountain View job.
He and his wife have three children and four grandchildren.
Herron said a key challenge in his job is dealing with lawmakers' and others' demands for greater use of renewable energy. "Renewables will play a role in what we are doing, but we will also need that base generation,” he said.
Growth and the resulting need for additional infrastructure is a continuing challenge as well, Herron said. “We've been able to stay one step ahead of that, but there's a lot of growth in the area.”
Mountain View strives to keep its members informed about the issues through annual meetings, member-appreciation events and Colorado Country Life magazine. The board of directors is elected by those members.
"One of the things that makes us way different from other utilities and other businesses is we are member-owned," Herron said. "So we want our members to understand that they are an owner, not just somebody receiving electric service, and we'd like them to understand a little bit about what they do own."
The most rewarding part of his job, he said, is "the employees and working with the membership."
"Back in 2013, when we had the Black Forest fire, it was amazing to watch the employees band together,” Herron said. “'We've got to get in there, we've got to get the power back on, we've got to get the poles back up that burned up or fell down.' The employees worked together to get that done."
He pointed to other instances where workers have gone above and beyond, from repairs after a major ice storm in 2001 to this year's "bomb cyclone." At times, he said, the workers have had to be ordered to go home and take a break.
”The dedication of the employees, it blows me away.”
Jim Herron, CEO of Mountain View Electric Association, has been with the member-owned cooperative for 23 years. Photo by Bill Radford