A Brief History of City Light
Lighting Up The West
Seattle City Light has been lighting up lives in the city we serve since 1910, but our roots
go back to the very beginnings of electricity. The light bulb was just seven years old in
1886 when the Seattle Electric Light Company launched the first incandescent lighting
system west of the Rockies.
For the next 13 years, Seattle was served by a variety of "neighborhood electric companies,"
since the direct current then in use could be transmitted only short distances. New
alternating current technology soon made it possible to serve larger areas and by 1900
the small, competing companies were consolidated into the Seattle Electric Company.
Rates were 20 cents per kilowatt-hour--six times Seattle's current residential rate.
The Shape Of The Future
In 1902, Seattle residents made an historic decision that would shape the future of power
supply for the city: they approved a $590,000 bond issue to develop a hydroelectric
facility on the Cedar River. It was the beginning of public power in Seattle--public
and private systems would compete in the city until 1951— and the nation's first
municipally owned hydro project.
Cedar Falls first generated power in 1905 under control of the City Water Department.
But the plant performed so well and demand for municipal power rose so dramatically,
that the Seattle City Council soon decided to create a separate lighting department.
On April 1, 1910, Seattle City Light was born.
The Father Of City Light
In 1911, the new electric utility found its future in the vision of its second
superintendent, the legendary J.D. Ross, often called the "Father of City Light."
A self-taught engineer with boundless enthusiasm, Ross envisioned the day when
the waters of the Skagit River would be harnessed for Seattle by a series of
Ross worked tirelessly toward this goal for years before receiving the federal
government's go-ahead in 1918. Overcoming a host of problems--railroad had to
be built just to get to the site--City Light dedicated the first dam in 1924.
President Coolidge pressed a gold key in the White House and the Gorge Dam
generators began sending electricity to Seattle.
Construction continued through three more decades on the remainder of Ross'
vision--and Ross Dams. Today, although Seattle City Light has broadened and
diversified its resources, these dams are still the heart of our water storage
and generating facilities.
In 1951, Seattle voters approved another landmark in Seattle City Light's
history--buy-out of the privately owned competitors' Seattle territory.
Seattle at last had a unified power system.
Go-Go Becomes Go-Slow
The 50s and 60s were a go-go era of modernization and expansion: more generating
capacity at existing facilities, new substations and improvements to the power
distribution system. The new Boundary Dam and powerhouse in Northeastern
Washington began operation in 1967. In the late 60s and 70s, three factors
began to chart new directions for Seattle City Light: unprecedented demand,
environmental concern and drought.
A major drought hit the area in 1977 and more were ahead in the 80s. Almost
overnight, it seemed, conservation became a high priority energy policy.
With funding from the Bonneville Power Administration, Seattle City Light
launched a series of programs that, over the years, has made the utility a
national leader in conservation.
Residential programs offer free home energy checks and financial incentives
encouraging weatherizing and the installation of energy saving measures such
as insulation and energy-efficient water heaters. Commercial and industrial
conservation programs offer financial incentives for energy-efficient heating,
lighting and air conditioning and other measures.
Today, the Pacific Northwest is moving from a period of energy surplus to energy
deficit and conservation is Seattle City Light's first priority for developing
new resources--with good reason. Conservation is competitive with developing new
resources, has minimal impact on the environment and creates a potential for
The 80's: Rate Stability And Diversity
Seattle has always enjoyed an abundance of power at some of the nation's
lowest electrical rates. During the 80s keeping rates stable and broadening
our sources of supply became key priorities.
Regional power contracts brought new power from British Columbia, the Columbia
Basin Irrigation Districts and the Olympic Peninsula. In 1988 the new Lucky Peak
hydro project in Idaho, producing about four percent of our load, came on line.
Regional ventures such as these not only control costs, but reduce our
dependence on power purchased from the Bonneville Power Administration.
In recent years environmental concerns have had a major impact on Seattle City
Light operations. This was typified by an historic 1991 agreement for the
federal relicensing of our Skagit River Hydroelectric Project.
Following 14 years of studies and negotiations, Seattle City Light signed an
agreement with a diverse group of state, federal, tribal and environmental groups
for a $100 million mitigation package which will improve fisheries, wildlife,
recreation, cultural resources and the visual environment near our Diablo,
Gorge and Ross dams.
The Future: Repeating History
Seattle City Light is proud of the agreement. While it's an unprecedented
achievement nationally, we see it as living proof of our continuing commitment
to meet both the environmental and energy needs to the Pacific Northwest.
What about the future? Look for history to repeat itself. Count on the people of
Seattle City Light for responsive customer service, responsible citizenship and
the lowest-cost, most reliable electricity in urban America.