KEM Electric Cooperative, Inc. was organized in 1944, during World War II, some nine years after the birth of Rural Electrification Administration (REA). The date of incorporation was April 5, 1944.
The original or charter Board of Directors was made up of the following nine dedicated men: S. R. Dosch, Strasburg; Wendelin Wikenheiser, Strasburg; Carl Jacobson, Braddock; Kenneth R. Lynn, Ashley; Art Forsberg, Kintyre; Garret Vander Vorst, Westfield; Fred J. Ohlhauser, Linton; Joseph Vetter, Linton; and Herbert Weber, Hazelton. These men and long-time Emmons County Extension Agent Ben Barret were the driving force in creating KEM Electric and in bringing electricity to the rural areas of south central North Dakota.
The name chosen, KEM Electric Cooperative, Inc., uses the initials of three of the counties in the service area, Kidder, Emmons and McIntosh. Logan County was added later to the service area but not to the name.
Pius K. Mastel, Linton was hired in October, 1946 as Coordinator. The title of the position was eventually changed to General Manager.
It was impossible to obtain construction materials during World War II and as a result actual construction of power lines did not begin until 1947 and 1948.
KEM’s first substation (Danzig) was energized April 2, 1949. The Danzig sub is approximately eight miles south of Wishek, in McIntosh County. The first farm energized was that of Wm. C. Giedt, Danzig. The farm was connected April 2, 1949.
By April, 1950, three additional substations had been energized. These were Dawson, Napoleon and Linton subs.
On March 1, 1950 George W. Cornog replaced P. K. Mastel as KEM’s General Manager.
Construction continued at a fast pace for some time. In 1952, the last large section of new lines—the E-2 section—was completed and in 1953 the E-3 section was also completed, picking up individual farms scattered around the entire service area.
KEM’s basic electric system remained the same, in large part, until 1965. By then increased demand and usage of electric energy by the members brought about a major rebuilding program. Additional distribution substations were constructed, existing feeder lines were rebuilt increasing their capacity, new feeder lines and new transmission lines were built, and an extensive undergrounding of lines was accomplished.
The system now consists of twelve distribution substations—Danzig, Linton, Napoleon, Sukut, Krassna, Steele, Tappen, Hazelton, Ashley, Zeeland, Sunburst and Midway. The Dawson sub was retired and the original wooden structures of the Danzig and Napoleon substations were replaced with modern steel structures. In addition, KEM Electric constructed a large 230/41.6 kV transmission substation, the Herbert Weber Substation, at Dawson. This facility is connected directly to the Western Area Power Administration transmission line and was added to provide much needed additional capacity in the northern portion of the service area. The substation, named in honor of Charter Board Member Herbert Weber, is owned by KEM Electric but operated by Montana-Dakota Utilities Company, Bismarck.