Electricity first came to The Dalles in July 1888, when the private The Dalles Electric Light Company built a wood-burning power-generation plant at Seventh and Union Streets.
The power plant was sold to The Dalles Electric Telephone and Power Company in 1892 and was soon moved to the northwest corner of First and Laughlin streets. In 1902, the plant was acquired by the Wasco Warehouse Milling Company. The plant provided electricity for customers to operate up to ten 10-watt globes each evening for a month, for $1.60. The electricity was shut off in the daytime. The company later built another powerhouse near the falls on the White River, near Tygh Valley.
The Wasco Milling Company sold its electrical holdings to the Pacific Power & Light Company in 1910. From 1910 to 1939, Pacific Power & Light was the sole provider of power to The Dalles and Dufur.
In the 1930s, residents began pushing to bring electricity to their homes and farms, in conjunction with the Roosevelt administration’s efforts to electrify rural America. The Bonneville Power Act authorized construction of Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams on the Columbia River, bringing extremely low-cost electricity to the region. Public, non-profit utilities (such as cities, co-ops and public utility districts) were given preferential rights to the power from the federal dams built in the Columbia Basin.
The Granges in Wasco County began an effort to create a People’s Utility District, but voters rejected a ballot measure in 1938. However, a second effort by a group of The Dalles businessmen, called The Dalles Public Power & Industrial Club, was approved by voters on Aug. 15, 1939.
The Northern Wasco County People’s Utility District was born. The first board of directors for the new utility were Jess Ott, Cecil Byers, W.J. Seufert, Charles Foster and Roy Johnson.
However, it would be 10 years before the newly formed PUD would serve its first customers, due to stiff opposition from Pacific Power & Light. The private utility filed numerous lawsuits and local challenges to the PUD’s efforts to gain a city franchise permit and to operate in the county. One legal case went all the way to the Oregon Supreme Court, which ruled that citizens had a right to form PUDs.
In May 1948, the City Council finally granted the PUD a 20-year, non-exclusive franchise, and the first customers were served Northern Wasco County PUD power in The Dalles on April 7, 1949.
However, the PUD did not have an exclusive franchise. Instead, the PUD competed against PP&L for customers – sometimes on the same block or street. PP&L initially lowered its rates to match the low-cost BPA power offered by the PUD. Eventually, PP&L’s artificially set rates caught up with the company. It ultimately proved difficult to maintain the electric system. The Oregon Public Utility Commission also ordered the company to set rates higher to cover its actual costs.
As more and more customers joined the PUD, PP&L ultimately lost the “rate war.” In 1976, PP&L agreed to sell its facilities in Wasco County (with the exception of assets in the City of Mosier) to Northern Wasco County PUD. Voters approved a ballot measure for the PUD to purchase PP&L’s assets (power poles, substations, etc.).
In the 1990s, the PUD built two small hydroelectric power plants at McNary and The Dalles dams to supplement its BPA power. These two hydroelectric projects are considered “fish-friendly” and generate clean, renewable and “carbon-free” power.