Watts in the Mountains:
Rural Electrification in

Western North Carolina

In the early twentieth century, rural electrification in the mountain region of North Carolina was sporadic and haphazard. Several emerging municipalities in the westernmost counties of the state found it difficult to find suppliers that were equipped to sustain the demand while also maintaining reasonable rates. Distribution into the rugged terrain was expensive and labor intensive, thus it progressed slowly. Electrification of rural areas increased dramatically with President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. Like the rest of the nation, this region sought to benefit from these programs that were to bring [the Appalachian mountaineer] some of the things he needs, like schools and electric lights.

The organization of the Nantahala Power and Light Company (NP&L), in July 1929, was in response to community sentiment and the appeal of western North Carolina's hydroelectric potential. Defense projects for World War II and the Korean War prompted a series of new dam and powerhouse construction that allowed for the extension of service into the region.

The establishment of the company produced various changes to rural communities. Residents experienced life with electricity, opportunities for local employment, and changes to the economic stability of their communities. Some also faced relocation due to the vast amount of land needed to build water-generated power facilities. In the construction of the dams and powerhouses, NP&L managed the flow of the water sources. This allowed for the manipulation of water during natural disasters, a suitable environment for wildlife, and a wide variety of recreational activities for the modern tourism industry.

Progress was still a major theme to the company in 1991 when NP&L connected its transmission lines to Duke Power and the company became part of the southeast power grid. Today, NP&L is a division of Duke Power and continues to supply hydroelectric power for the comfort and progress of western North Carolina communities.

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