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SWEPCO recognizes a century of service to customers this year

by on February 8, 2012
The Southwestern Gas and Electric Company headquarters building at Travis and Marshall streets in downtown Shreveport is shown above in a photo from March 1924. Photo from company archives

(Story by Scott McCloud)

SHREVEPORT — Southwestern Electric Power Company is celebrating a century of service this year.

“SWEPCO is celebrating a century of service to its customers this year, and 100 years is a long time,” said Venita McCellon-Allen, president and chief operating officer. “I want to congratulate the current employees who will mark this important milestone in 2012: June 29, 1912, was the day three companies came together to form the original Southwestern Gas and Electric Company.

“Think back to when you began your career and how successful we have been as a company over the years. Remember the former leaders who guided SWEPCO during its impressive power plant construction days: Wilkes, Welsh, Pirkey, Stall, Turk and Mattison. They leave their name on generation units still serving customers today. How will you leave your mark this year as a SWEPCO employee? The first step to take is one that focuses on safety, and the rest will be history,” she said.

Formed as Southwestern Gas and Electric Company in June 1912, AEP Southwestern Electric Power Company (SWEPCO) has undergone a name change twice, and no longer provides gas, water, ice or transportation services.

The original Southwestern Gas and Electric Company was the product of a merger between three utilities – Shreveport Gas, Electric Light and Power Company, Caddo Gas and Oil Company, and Texarkana Gas and Electric Company. These utilities were owned by a trio of brothers – Rufus, Henry and Charles Dawes, and in 1912 they consolidated their holdings into one company and Southwestern was born.

The Dawes retained control of Southwestern until 1925 when it was sold to Middle West Utilities. The largest of Middle West’s many holding companies was Central and South West. Southwestern became a part of CSW, which also controlled Central Power and Light Co., Public Service Company of Oklahoma and West Texas Utilities.

The company got out of the gas business in 1928. But through the 1930s and early 1940s, Southwestern was involved in other operations such as ice, water and streetcars, before divesting of these interests in the late 1940s.

The company’s ice plant at Eureka Springs, Ark., is shown above in a photo dated Sept. 24, 1940. Through the 1930s and early 1940s, the company was involved in operations such as ice, water and streetcars.Photo from company archives

Southwestern’s service territory continued to expand, and the company’s three original power plants, including the 10,000-kilowatt (KW) “giant” of its day, Arsenal Hill in Shreveport, Louisiana, were inadequate to meet the growing need. Southwestern built natural gas-fired plants and later added multiple generating units in various locations.

In 1958, after 46 years as Southwestern Gas and Electric, a new corporate name was adopted – Southwestern Electric Power Company. This name would change again 42 years later, with the American Electric Power merger of 2000 to reflect the company as its known today – AEP Southwestern Electric Power Company, or more commonly as SWEPCO. AEP celebrated its 100-year anniversary in 2006.

By the early 1970s, natural gas shortages hit and long-term contracts could not be found. The advantages of coal were obvious – inexpensive, abundant and available in the U.S. Southwestern would go on to build two coal plants in the late 1970s and early 1980s – Flint Creek in Northwest Arkansas, and Welsh in East Texas.

Continued customer growth created the need for additional plants. The fuel to fire these plants was found right in SWEPCO’s own backyard – lignite. The Pirkey Plant in East Texas was completed in 1985, and the Dolet Hills Power Plant in Louisiana went on line in 1986. SWEPCO built Dolet Hills, while Central Louisiana Electric Company (Cleco) operates the plant and both companies are among four partners that share in the power produced from its single 640,000 KW unit.

While the company did not build a power plant for over 20 years, increased electricity usage and strong customer growth prompted a return to the plant-building business again, as three new proposed plants were announced in the 2006 that will add some 1.4 million KWs to the system by late 2012.

A new logo has been created to recognize SWEPCO’s century of service.

SWEPCO installed simple-cycle gas combustion turbine peaking generation in July 2007 at the Harry Mattison Power Plant in Tontitown, Ark., near Fayetteville; completed the 508,000 KW combined-cycle gas J. Lamar Stall unit in Shreveport in June 2010 at the site of the company’s oldest plant, Arsenal Hill; and construction work continues on an advanced clean coal combustion plant using ultra-supercritical technology at the John W. Turk, Jr. Power Plant at Fulton, Ark., near Hope in Hempstead County. Turk Plant is over 80 percent complete and should be operational late this year. All three plants are named for former SWEPCO presidents.

The company received Texas commission approval and transferred 7,000 retail electric customers in five counties in the Texas Panhandle from AEP Texas to SWEPCO in 2007. The change was made because these customers were located in the same regional reliability council known as the Southwest Power Pool as the rest of SWEPCO’s East Texas customers. These new customers immediately saw lower electric prices, with an estimated annual savings of about 15 to 20 percent depending on usage.

Additionally, SWEPCO finalized the purchase of Valley Electric Membership Corporation (VEMCO) in October 2010. These 30,000 customers in eight northern and central Louisiana parishes also enjoy electric rate savings of about 20 percent. Adding Valley’s service area greatly expands SWEPCO’s geographic footprint in Louisiana and brings economic growth opportunities with the company’s lower rates along the Interstate 49 and Toledo Bend corridors.

SWEPCO values its most cherished assets – its customers and its employees. When the company was first formed, it had 125 employees and served only three communities – Shreveport, Bossier City and Texarkana – with a combined population of 42,000. Today, SWEPCO serves over 200 communities on its lines, representing a diverse 33,000-square mile service area of northern and central Louisiana, east and north Texas, and western Arkansas with a population of two million. There are 1,640 company employees supplying electricity to over 520,000 customers over 5,000 miles of transmission lines and about 25,500 miles of distribution power lines.

SWEPCO has most recently purchased over 469 MW of long-term renewable power capacity from wind farms in Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas, which will slightly lower the company’s overall cost to customers starting in 2013.

SWEPCO is proud of its 100-year commitment to reliable rates at affordable prices for its customers, and will continue to be a powerful company in the Ark-La-Tex.

From → Announcements

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