Back in the 1980s, electric service was terrible in Mammoth, Arizona, a down and dirty copper mining town in the rocky, cactus-studded foothills north of Tucson.
“Every time the wind blows, the power goes off,” a young mother shopping at Mammoth Plaza Market said at the time. “Every time there’s a cloud,” chimed in the checkout girl.
Fred Garcia, owner of nearby Redwood Tortilla Bakery Mart, said he converted his ovens from electricity to gas because he kept losing entire batches of breads and pastries.
Eleven miles away in the hipster town of Oracle, Andy Rush, the consensus leader of the artist colony Rancho Linda Vista, thought an electric co-op might be the solution. It fit his personal philosophy of group action with individual accountability and came as close as any utility could to satisfying his desire for local control of public services.
During a 1990 interview, the then-58-year-old sculptor said he’d already invested hundreds of hours finding out about co-ops and spreading what he learned up and down the foothills of the Santa Catalina Mountains. And he would spend hundreds more before giving up on the idea of Oracle Rural Electric Cooperative.
“I want to spread the philosophy of cooperative living as much as I can without getting too dogmatic about it,” he said during a drive to Mammoth in his yellow station wagon for a meeting where he laid out his plan to a crowd of about 150 area residents for a 3,000-meter distribution system.
“Home rule is what I think this choice is really about,” he said. “I hold as a philosophy of living that a semi-rural way of life is as viable, strong and as valuable as any other. This is why I live here. But this way of living can only exist if people are willing to be personally accountable.”
Rush also had gotten advice from NRECA, the Rural Electrification Administration, the Cooperative Finance Corporation, Tucson-based Trico Electric Cooperative and Arizona Electric Power Cooperative.
AEPCO told him it could supply the 10 to 15 megawatts the Oracle co-op would need there and in three other locales in the San Pedro River Valley: Mammoth, Aravaipa and Dudleyville.
All four communities were served by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ San Carlos Irrigation Project, whose reliability had been compromised by federal budget cuts. But there was an even bigger issue: the proposed divestiture of SCIP’s electric infrastructure, which was being pushed by U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe. He had already introduced legislation.
Rush and his compatriots in the Oracle Town Hall feared that the Arizona Public Service Company would take over SCIP’s lines. And to them, APS stood for the kind of growth that would make rural, laid-back Oracle a suburb of Tucson by the turn of the 21st century, only 10 years ahead.
“The formation of our own locally managed electric cooperative is a realistic alternative to the takeover of the Oracle area by APS,” a flier stated.
Oracle Rural Electric Cooperative never got off the ground, and the divestiture didn’t happen. SCIP still serves the area, and still gets bad reviews from its customers. And the town of Oracle never did turn into a Tucson suburb. According to census figures, its population grew by 28 percent between 1990 and 2020, from 3,043 to just 3,932.