Local View: Clark County's utility was built on people power

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This year is the 75th anniversary of the formation of our Clark County Public Utility District now using the trade name Clark Public Utilities. In 1930, the citizens of the state of Washington voted for an initiative authorizing the formation of Public Utility Districts. The initiative was sponsored by the Washington State Grange in response to the concerns of farmers and other rural dwellers about the high rates charged by the private companies and their refusal to extend service to rural areas. The grange and organized labor campaigned vigorously for the initiative and the private utilities put large financial and human resources in opposition.

After the federal government began Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams in 1933 and in 1937 established the Bonneville Power Administration with preference for public- and cooperatively owned distribution utilities, Clark County Granges in 1938 collected signatures to put an initiative on the local ballot to authorize the formation of Public Utility District No. 1 of Clark County. The measure was approved by county voters 9,629 to 7,008. This gave the citizens of the county access to low-cost federal hydro power.

The first elected PUD commissioners were Heye Meyer, Joseph Asp, and L.M. Jones. Meyer was the master of the Clark County Pomona Grange and one of the leaders in the effort to gain approval of the PUD formation.

The PUD commissioners offered to buy the Clark County electric facilities of the Northwestern Electric company and also of Portland General Electric. When their offers were turned down, the PUD turned to the courts to obtain ownership so countywide service could begin. In the meantime, the PUD was able to begin service in 1942 to the Air Reduction Company and the Vancouver Housing Authority.

Acquisition of the Portland General Electric properties was accomplished in 1945 and the Northwestern Electric properties in 1947. In 1948, the PUD was able to provide service to the entire county starting with 19,141 customers. Today, that number is 182.000.

The citizens of Clark County owe a debt to the state grange and our county granges for leading the fight to establish our public utility district and giving us the many benefits of public power. This historic fight for public power shows that people power can beat corporate power.