Electric Power

Public responsibility for electrical energy dates back to 1890 with creation of the Department of Lighting and Water Works. A City Charter amendment in 1910 created the Lighting Department, making it a full member of the City's Board of Public Works. The current name of the agency was adopted in 1978 when the department was reorganized. As a municipally owned public power system, Seattle City Light is governed by elected Seattle officials. City Light is responsible for electrical service and streetlight service, streetlight problems, and also conservation, both residential and commercial/industrial. It is the largest public utility in the Pacific Northwest.

Power Generation

Seattle's foray into electricity generation began with an opportunity - an existing dam at the Cedar River that could be used to generate power - and a need - cheap electricity to power streetlights in a rapidly growing city. Under the leadership of Superintendent James D. Ross, the department developed the Skagit River hydroelectric project which began supplying power in 1924 with the completion of the Gorge Dam, and later the Diablo and Ross Dams. Both public and private power was supplied to Seattle until 1951 when the City purchased the local private electrical power company, the Puget Sound Power and Light Company, making the Lighting Department the sole supplier. In the 1960s, City Light built the Boundary Dam in Northeast Washington that now generates over a third of the utility's power output. The utility also operates smaller generation facilities on the Cedar and Tolt Rivers and contracts for additional power from environmentally-friendly sources and the Bonneville Power Administration.

Cedar River powerhouse
Cedar River power line and powerhouse, 1922
In 1902, Seattle voters approved a
$590,000 bond issue to finance
construction of a hydroelectric plant
on the Cedar River. This facility
began operation in 1905, powering the
City's streetlight network. It was the
nation's first municipally
owned hydroelectric project.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 1952
Lake Union steam plant
Lake Union auxiliary steam plant, 1930
The steam plant, completed in 1917,
augmented City Light's electricity supply.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 78085
Gorge powerhouse
Gorge railroad bridge,
Gorge powerhouse at Newhalem, 1938
City Light completed Gorge Dam, its first
hydroelectric dam on the Skagit River,
in 1924. The Gorge High Dam replaced the
original dam in 1961.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 13632
Gorge lunchroom
Gorge workers in lunchroom, 1935
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 17684
Diablo Dam
Diablo Dam and Diablo Lake,
Ruby Mountain in background, 1935
Diablo Dam was completed in 1930 and
began generating electricity in 1936.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 13100
Diablo Dam workers
Diablo Dam workers on incline, 1928
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 45021
Alice Ross on Diablo Lake
The Alice Ross on Diablo Lake, 1936
For decades, City Light has invited
tourists to the Skagit to learn about
the dams and enjoy the scenery
of the North Cascades.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 14678
Ross Dam
Ross Dam and Powerhouse, 2002
Ross Dam opened in 1949.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 138172
Boundary Dam
Boundary Dam construction, 1966
The Boundary Project in northeastern
Washington began operations in 1967
and supplies over half of
City Light's power generation.
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 109539

Power Delivery

Seattle City Light owns and maintains a network of in-city facilities, substations, and power lines that supplies low-priced electricity to Seattle residences and businesses.

North Substation
North Substation, 1926
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 2196
substation switchboard
Yesler Substation battery room switchboard, 1930
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 3889
power control center
Power Control Center, interior, 1968
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 78809
26,000 volt cutover
26,000 volt cutover
Western Ave. and Wall St., 1927
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 2572
light poles and power lines
Light poles and power lines, 1934
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 8760
meter reader
Meter reader, 1939
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 18587
City Light warehouse
City Light warehouse, Fourth Ave. South, 1928
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 2987
construction trucks
Construction trucks at 600 Broadway, 1949
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 43221
line workers
Line workers at substation, 2004
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 151446

Service and Outreach

From its beginning, City Light dedicated itself to increasing demand for electricity. City Light offered customers the latest selection of electrical appliances, for either sale or lease, from their network of stores. The utility also promoted the use of electricity through advertising and educational campaigns, and employed hundreds to maintain its networks and provide service to retail customers. City Light continues to educate its customers, now emphasizing conservation and the wise use of electricity

City Light storefront
City Light storefront, 1933
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 7892
electric stove demonstration
Electric stove demonstration, 1949
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 20738
City Light sales room
City Light sales room, 1934
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 8828
City Light parade float
City Light parade float, 1938
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 18408
City Light service workers
Range Service, 1950
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 20859
service truck
Service truck, 1945
Seattle Municipal Archives Image 19391