Oglethorpe Power Corporation is the largest electric power cooperative in the United States, with more than $1 billion in revenues, $7 billion in assets, and 4.1 million customers, as of 2011. It supplies wholesale electric power to thirty-nine of Georgia’s forty-one electric membership corporations (EMCs). Its headquarters are in Tucker, in DeKalb County.
Oglethorpe Power’s mission is to meet the electric requirements of its member EMCs, which are owned by their residential, commercial, and industrial customers. As a not-for-profit corporation, it charges rates sufficient to cover the cost of service and provide a reasonable profit. Oglethorpe Power is governed by a thirteen-member board of directors, composed of twelve member EMC directors or managers and one director from outside the cooperative.
The roots of the company lie with the Rural Electrification Administration (REA), established by U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1935. The REA provided loans for building transmission lines in rural areas, which commercial power companies had found uneconomical to serve. Customers in rural counties formed EMCs to purchase power from commercial and governmental sources.
Thirty-nine Georgia EMCs incorporated Oglethorpe Power Corporation in August 1974 to acquire generating capacity and transmission lines. In the 1970s Oglethorpe Power purchased co-ownership of four plants either under construction or planned by the Georgia Power Company. Since then, Oglethorpe Power has acquired or built plants financed primarily through loans from the REA and its successor agency, the Rural Utilities Service.
In 1997 Oglethorpe Power restructured into three separate, interrelated cooperatives: Oglethorpe Power, which retained control of power generation; Georgia Transmission Corporation (GTC), which owns and operates the transmission lines and substations; and Georgia System Operations Corporation (GSOC). Today, GTC maintains 3,000 miles of electrical line and 600 substations. GTC’s maintenance tasks include system inspection, vegetation management, and upgrades and repairs to prevent and end blackouts. GSOC, on the other hand, handles more than 7,000 megawatts of Oglethope Power’s electricity on a day-to-day basis. It ensures that electricity is available at regular and irregular periods of high demand.
Oglethorpe Power is significantly involved with Georgia Power, the state’s largest supplier of electricity. Together they own the Rocky Mountain hydroelectric plant in Floyd County, and along with two other utility companies, they co-own the Hatch and Vogtle nuclear plants in Appling and Burke counties respectively, the Wansley and Scherer coal-fired plants in Heard and Monroe counties respectively, and the statewide Integrated Transmission System.
Oglethorpe Power provides about 55 percent of the power used by its member EMCs. The remainder is purchased from other power providers in the state, including Georgia Power. As of 2009 the plants owned wholly or in part by Oglethorpe Power supplied it with 5,790 megawatts of capacity. Its fuel mix is 24 percent coal, 47 percent gas, 19 percent nuclear, and 10 percent hydroelectric.
Involvement in power generation brings Oglethorpe Power under government regulation. Under the provisions of the Clean Air Act, the company has spent heavily to reduce emissions at its coal-fired plants. Its nuclear plants operate under licenses issued by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Green Energy EMC, founded in 2001, provides renewable energy sources, including solar power, landfill gas generation, and low-impact hydroelectric power, to thirty-eight of Georgia’s forty-one electric co-ops. By 2016 it provided more than 1.7 million Georgia families and businesses access to green power sources, with a generating capacity of more than 270 megawatts.
Changing demographics have affected Oglethorpe Power’s development. Georgia’s rapid population growth has been reflected in the increase of megawatt-hour sales, which rose from 6.75 million in 1979, to 16.06 million in 1989, to about 32 million in 2005. As urban areas have expanded, EMC service areas have become less rural and more suburban. Oglethorpe Power’s two largest EMCs, Jackson EMC and Cobb EMC, are particularly good examples of this trend.