Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative (OTEC) is one of Oregon's largest distribution cooperatives. Headquartered in Baker City, Oregon, with district offices in La Grande, John Day, and Burns, OTEC serves approximately 31,000 meters in Baker, Grant, Harney and Union counties with a network of overhead and underground lines approximately 3,000 miles long. OTEC's distribution system represents an investment of more than $153 million.
Can you really start an electric cooperative with seven hundred pennies? That's what three Baker City residents did in 1987. At the time, this part of northeastern Oregon was served by an investor-owned utility, CP National Corporation. This multi-state conglomerate was looking to unload its dilapidated system and to get out of the not-so-lucrative rural electric utility business. When several attempted purchases failed, Dick Haynes along with Peggi and Glenn Timm brought forward the notion of forming a cooperative to own and operate the utility locally. Thus in 1987, Oregon Trail Electric Cooperative was born.
To demonstrate community support for the cooperative, the trio collected a penny from each of 700 citizens, and secured a $33 million loan from the Cooperative Finance Corporation. A year later, the citizens of Baker, Grant, Harney and Union counties began operation of OTEC - one of the largest electric cooperatives in Oregon. Foremost among the challenges facing the fledgling cooperative was the need to upgrade a rundown electrical system long overdue for an overhaul. As poles and wires were replaced and substations rebuilt, local residents began to enjoy a service level previously unknown in this part of the state.
Today, system upgrading continues and district offices have been established in Burns, John Day and La Grande in addition to the Baker City Headquarters. The utility now serves approximately 31,000 meters and operates a distribution system representing an investment of over $146 million. OTEC is a living tribute to three community leaders with a dream and 700 pennies.