"During the late 1930's," Attorney Joe Ryan recalled, "a local leader approached me stating a group of farmers was talking about organizing a cooperative in Aitkin County under the New Deal program for rural electrification. I was happy to work with them and we went from there."
Aitkin Attorney Louis Hallum operated Rural Utilities Company, which consisted of about 20 miles of line. In 1936, he secured a loan from REA to build additional line and a second utility, Farm Electric Service Company. This $100,000 loan was the first granted to a Minnesota utility. The lines of Farm Electric Service Company extended to Garrison, included a small area on the north shore of Mille Lacs Lake, and went into the Farm Island and Bay Lake areas. Wholesale power was purchased from Minnesota Power and Light and distributed through a substation near Bay Lake.
About this time, REA fieldman Ralph Rice was encouraging the creation of a rural electric cooperative in the Aitkin area. Mr. Hallum was interested in selling his facilities, and the two men began negotiating. They reached a tentative agreement that allowed Mr. Rice to proceed. May 12, 1939, the Articles of Incorporation for Mille Lacs Region Cooperative Power and Light Association was signed and filed with the State of Minnesota. The newly established Cooperative bought the Hallum companies, and the deal was closed in the fall of 1939.
When the annual meeting was held on March 28, 1940, there were only 322 members on the entire system. In 1947, a major expansion occurred when Mille Lacs and three other cooperatives purchased a privately-owned distribution system called Eastern Minnesota Utilities. In 1954, Mille Lacs and five other cooperatives, purchased the General Minnesota Utility Company.
In 1959, nine distribution cooperatives in northeastern Minnesota created Northern Minnesota Power Association. This association worked with Rural Cooperative Power Association of Elk River and others to build a power plant on the lignite fields of North Dakota. This plant became Stanton Generating Plant continues to operate today.
The cooperative changed its name in the 1960's to Mille Lacs Electric Cooperative, then in the 1990's to Mille Lacs Energy Cooperative (MLEC).
MLEC has gone from just a few miles of line with a few hundred members to 1,968 miles of line and 13,166 members today.