Regional electricity provider Pacific Power celebrates its 100-year anniversary with a legacy of promoting the energy and vitality of the communities it serves – including a Central Oregon heartland which has been in the company fold since the early days.
Just 30 years after Thomas Edison invented the light bulb, Pacific Power & Light Company (PP&L) was born in the Pacific Northwest.
Formed in 1910, PP&L started from the merger of several financially troubled utilities and initially served just 7,000 customers in Astoria and Pendleton in Oregon, and Yakima and Walla Walla in Washington.
PP&L’s early years were marked by a mission to improve and expand electrical service, and to create efficiencies to lower costs for customers. Power lines were built to link cities and then to link with other utilities – the forerunner of today’s sophisticated power grid systems.
Once established, PP&L acquired other companies and service areas, building new generation and an extensive transmission and distribution system to serve electric customers in Oregon and Washington, and later in Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and Northern California.
CENTRAL OREGON CONNECTION
One of the earlier companies acquired, in 1928, was Deschutes Power & Light; while most of Central Oregon’s communities had come under the service provider’s umbrella by 1930, and growth continued locally as city boundaries expanded.
In 1931, the Great Depression reinforced PP&L’s philosophy that its health was only as good as the vitality of the communities it served. Economic development initiatives followed, including advancing more than $250,000 to help local fruit crop farmers unable to obtain financing, as an early example of the commercial innovation that continues to this day.
By 1937 PP&L had connected its 10,000th farm customer as part of a rural electrification program underway long before federal efforts had begun.
As the 1950s dawned, it became clear more generation options were needed for long-term price stability, and company leaders proposed new paths, including the innovative North Umpqua hydro electric project.
After a series of mergers and acquisitions, the growing provider became known as PacifiCorp – operating as Pacific Power in Oregon, Washington and California with a client base now numbering over 700,000 (including some 70,000 in Central Oregon) and as Rocky Mountain Power in Utah, Wyoming and Idaho.
PacifiCorp today serves a total of over 1.7 million customers spanning 136,000 square miles, operating 78 generating plants across the West, including thermal, hydroelectric, wind-powered and geothermal facilities. Since 2006, it has been a wholly owned subsidiary of MidAmerican Energy Holdings Company, itself an affiliate of legendary investor Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway empire.
PacifiCorp has displayed a commitment to using renewable resources as a viable, economical and environmentally prudent means of generating electricity, and approximately 3,100 megawatts – or 22 percent of its generating capacity – is produced from renewable and non-carbon sources.
As far back as 1970, conservation had become the new watchword and Pacific Power took the lead nationally by innovating programs and services that helped customers use electricity more wisely and effectively – even as the company explored new generating options to meet increasing demand.
Conservation promotion efforts included the company, in 1972, becoming the first utility in the nation to finance residential weatherization with zero-interest loans.
By 1981 Pacific Power had installed Oregon’s first commercial wind turbine at Whisky Run, near Coos Bay. With technology improvements came the realization that wind energy was becoming increasingly viable and today the company is a leader in U.S. utility ownership of wind generation.
Other highlights over the last century have included the launch of HELP, an emergency fuel assistance program still in place today; the establishment in 1988 of philanthropic arm the PacifiCorp Foundation, one of the largest utility-endowed foundations in the United States, and the company’s industry leadership regarding sustainable practices, particularly through the innovative Blue Sky renewable energy program.
The foundation has a mission, through charitable investments, to support the growth and vitality of its communities and awards grants to nonprofit organizations in the categories of education; civic and community betterment; culture and arts; and health, welfare and social services.
During the second quarter of 2009, the Pacific Power Foundation awarded more than $200,000 to 37 communities in Oregon, California and Washington.
Some $39,700 in contributions and grants were made to Central Oregon, just counting those contributions that were more than $1,000, for the last full calendar year.
Recipients in 2009 included everything from Bend Fire and Rescue, Central Oregon’s Partnership to End Poverty, High Desert Museum and Deschutes County Health Beginnings, to Central Oregon Environmental Center, Tour des Chutes, Leadership Bend Foundation and the Bend Experimental Art Theatre (BEAT) to name just a few.
Pacific Power VP of Communications and Public Affairs Paul Vogel said: “It was realized at an early stage that we cannot export our service, we can only provide to the communities we serve and are therefore only as healthy as they are.
“Economic development is one thing we have very much been involved with, down to helping assess whether a project is viable regarding infrastructure and capacity requirements. The Facebook data center project in Prineville is a good example of helping with positive compatible goals.
“We want to be an advocate or seed-sower and are committed supporters of our communities, whether that be through helping programs with in-kind assistance, sponsorship or grants.
“We want to help strengthen the community fabric and it all plays into the same direction of supporting each other.”
Pacific Power also has a long tradition of volunteerism among its workforce, often in the form of employees being involved in community organizations or as local leaders. The company also has a matching program where it will match hours of service with a check.
Vogel added: “We have been around a long time; are here for the long-term and are enjoying celebrating our centennial with our community partners as we look positively to the future.”
On a local level, Vogel said Central Oregon has been recognized as a leader regarding renewable energy efforts.
In regards to the Blue Sky initiative, highlights have included:
• Bend became a Green Power Community in May 2008, a designation awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for leadership and support of renewable energy;
• The Bend City Council, the Bend Chamber of Commerce and Pacific Power issued in October 2007 what turned out to be an extremely successful communitywide challenge to Bend residents and businesses to support renewable energy by signing up for the Blue Sky program;
• The solar array at the Redmond airport received a $200,000 grant from the Blue Sky program toward its construction. The array has a capacity of 44 kilowatts, and is capable of producing about 64,763 kilowatt hours of renewable power annually, about 10 percent of new terminal annual usage, and roughly enough to supply five average residential customers for a year. It was completed in March 2010.
Infrastructure improvements are also continuing on an ongoing basis and projects currently underway in Central Oregon include:
• Adding a third transformer to the Bend Plant substation to accommodate load growth in the Bend downtown area;
•Initial engineering design work underway to increase the capacity at the Deschutes substation;
• Preliminary work on two new substations – one in the Prineville area to be completed in 2012, and one in Bend’s Juniper Ridge business park, with an expected completion date of 2014;
• Upgrades to an existing transmission line near Madras, and smaller reliability improvement projects throughout Central Oregon.