History of Sawnee EMC

In this fast-paced, modern world we live in today, it’s difficult to imagine life without electricity…but in the 1930s, that’s exactly the way it was for many rural Americans.

Even though the people living in rural areas wanted the comfort and convenience electricity would offer them, investor-owned companies refused to extend electric lines into the rural areas because it was not profitable. Political leaders thought it a great injustice that rural Americans were being denied the increased quality of life brought about by electricity.As a result, part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “New Deal” with America was the creation of the Rural Electrification Administration, now known as the Rural Utilities Service. President Roosevelt signed the Executive Order to establish the Rural Electrification Administration on May 11, 1935, providing low interest loans to groups of rural Americans and enabling them to form their own electric companies, called “cooperatives”.

With the creation of the REA came the formation of electric cooperatives all across the nation. Community leaders secured REA loans, elected a Board of Directors to set rates, service fees and policies, opened business offices and built lines. Getting electricity was as simple as going into the local REA office, paying a membership fee and applying for electric service. That’s all there was to it. Anyone who wanted electricity could get it…just by becoming a member of the cooperative. Cooperatives were formed only to provide members with electricity and not to make a profit.

Community leaders of Forsyth County, Georgia were among those who wanted to provide better lives for the people of the area and on July 16, 1938, Forsyth County Electric Membership Corporation was incorporated. With the ‘flip of a switch’ on June 22, 1939, about 750 homes had electricity! At that time, there was 163 miles of line that cost $125,000 to build. The rate for energy usage in 1939 was $1.25 per month for 14 kilowatts and $2.00 for 25 kilowatts.

In August of 1950, the name of the Forsyth County Electric Membership Corporation was officially changed to Sawnee Electric Membership Corporation. The name “Sawnee” was chosen because of the location of the headquarters buildings, which sits at the foothills of Sawnee Mountain, a local landmark. The mountain was named for Chief Sawnee, a Cherokee Indian Chief.

Much has changed since July 1938. Forsyth County is one of the fastest growing counties in the nation and Sawnee EMC is the third largest cooperative in the state of Georgia. We now have approximately 141,700 members.

With all the changes that have taken place, many things about your cooperative have stayed the same. Sawnee still has a nine (9) member Board elected by the members, it still remains a not-for-profit entity, and SEMC still has the same goal…to provide dependable, reliable electric energy at competitive prices.

A cooperative is a member owned, not-for-profit organization. Its purpose is to serve its members in a manner that will benefit them. Beyond the product or service itself, one of the most apparent benefits is the return of margins to members in proportion to their use of the co-op products or services. This means that any monies collected in excess of operating expenses are refunded to its members. The Corporation's policies currently allow for the retirement of patronage capital on a Board-defined rotation cycle.