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Utah power company celebrates 100 years in business

By Keith McCord | Posted - Apr. 6, 2012 at 6:22 p.m.


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SALT LAKE CITY — If you have a clock radio, use a hair dryer, recharge your cellphone battery, play computer games, or even go to the doctor, there's a common thread: all require electricity.

In Utah, most of us get our electricity from Rocky Mountain Power, and this year the company is celebrating its 100th birthday.

While there's no big party planned, the company is sharing its story of the past century. And things were certainly different back in those early days.

When 89-year-old Romayne Phipps paid her electric bill recently, she included a short note congratulating the power company on its 100th birthday. Years ago, she and her late husband, Gene, were ranchers, and they spent a lot of time in rural settings.


In the early days, Utah Power and Light Company, as it was known then, provided electricity only on certain days of the week.

"I've seen how men lived in sheep camps and wagons, with only candles and lanterns for light," Phipps said.

We certainly take it for granted now that the lights will go on when we flip the switch. We expect the power to be there 24/7. But a century ago, that was not the case.

In the early days, Utah Power and Light Company, as it was known then, provided electricity only on certain days of the week.

"Monday, we used to turn on the electricity so that people could do their laundry. Then there was another day when we turned it on in the afternoon, (and) sometimes for big events, if there was something going on out at Saltair," explained Richard Walje, president and CEO of Rocky Mountain Power.

And Walje said on nights when there was a full moon, the power company turned the street lights off.

Salt Lake City holds a distinctive place in history, in terms of electricity. Mining companies and other industries needed more cost-effective ways to operate, so Utah Power began building power plants and transmission lines.


We were the fifth major city in the world to get central electric service — after New York, Paris, London and Cleveland — and I don't know how Cleveland snuck in ahead of us.

–Richard Walje, Rocky Mountain Power CEO


"We were the fifth major city in the world to get central electric service — after New York, Paris, London and Cleveland — and I don't know how Cleveland snuck in ahead of us," Walje said with a chuckle.

Tracking down power outages was a bit tricky in 1912.

"They had a paper map of all of our circuits, and then the people in the dispatch center, there would be one or two guys, would be up putting pins on maps and putting stickies up that would say, ‘This one's out,'" Walje explained. "Now that's all automated."

Did you know that in 1921, the power company sent boys door to door to sell light bulbs? It was a way to encourage more electrical use by customers. Back then, Utah Power and Light also sold electric washing machines, also to encourage power use, and thus make more money.

It wasn't until World War II, when factories needed constant power to service the war effort that Utah Power and Light began to provide electricity around the clock. The equipment used in the early days was state-of-the-art then, but is certainly antique-looking by today's standards.

In the early days, Utah Power and Light served 40,000 customers and had about 2,000 miles of power lines. Today, there are 35,000 miles of lines serving 1 million Rocky Mountain Power customers in Utah, Idaho and Wyoming.

Rocky Mountain's actual birth date is Sept. 6. But employees are observing the century mark throughout 2012.

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Keith McCord

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