Energy Adviser: Public utility marks 75 years of serving Clark County

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Clark Public Utilities is celebrating its 75th anniversary in 2013. Formed in 1938 by a vote of the people, Clark County Public Utility District No. 1 was created to provide reliable, at-cost power to the residents and businesses of Clark County.

The early years were marked by struggle between the established private electric companies and the newly formed PUD to divide and acquire assets and infrastructure. A board of commissioners was elected and these officials began the business of bringing public power to Clark County.

In the 1940s, Clark Public Utilities opened its first office at 1008 Main Street and served its first customer -- Air Reduction Company Inc., which made acetylene for the shipyards.

Customers in Hazel Dell were so pleased with Clark Public Utilities' electric service that they began a petition requesting that the PUD build a water system north of Vancouver. Preliminary engineering was started in 1945, and in 1951, Hazel Dell's new system delivered water to its first 347 customers. The PUD was expanding. In 1948, ten years after its formation, Clark Public Utilities became the only electric utility in Clark County, and customer count totaled 26,750.

In the early 1950s, construction was completed on an operations center, located on Fourth Plain Boulevard, to meet growing demands for electricity in Clark County. Boosted by a boom in electric-powered technologies for the home, the 30,000th customer signed up for service in 1955. At that time, residential electric rates were at 1.004 cents per kilowatt hour.

The PUD continued to grow and expected loads to double in the coming ten years, requiring the utility to develop a long-range plan for system expansion. Nine new rural lighting districts were formed and 600 additional streetlights were installed throughout the county. With residential customer numbers increasing by 5 percent, a third floor was added to the Electric Center in 1965.

By 1971, the customer count had topped 50,000. The PUD had grown to 1,800 miles of transmission and distribution lines, 16 substations, 10 water pumping stations, 88 miles of water lines and 280 employees. In 1974, the 60,000th customer signed up for service, and a new operations center near Orchards was completed by 1977.

Throughout the 1980s, there were significant rate increases from the Bonneville Power Administration, with costs for hydropower rising 500 percent in 5 years. Clark Public Utilities was required to increase rates to maintain balance in the system budget, but remained at less than half the national average cost of electricity.

As the federal hydrosystem, managed by BPA, reached full allocation, the utility began to evaluate additional ways to meet continued demand for reliable, affordable energy in Clark County. In 1997, Clark Public Utilities completed construction of the River Road Generating Plant. Today the dual-cycle natural gas turbine generator provides nearly 40 percent of the energy needed in Clark County and holds the top three world records for longest consecutive generating runs.

In its 75 years of serving Clark County, Clark Public Utilities has made a commitment to putting the customer first and making excellent service a core value. Employees are each empowered to do what's right for customers and are part of a culture that seeks continuous improvement.

Today, Clark Public Utilities leads the industry in customer satisfaction and serves as a local resource to residents and businesses interested in making their homes or operations more energy efficient. Changes in technology continue to make equipment and electronics more effective while using less electricity. These innovations that allow homes and businesses to do more with less are key to the longevity of our public power system and this column will highlight many of these technologies in the coming year.

Have questions about energy, electric technologies or public power? Ask the Energy Adviser!Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.