In 1886 a group of enterprising businessmen decided Ashland needed electricity. They formed the Ashland Electric Power and Light Company by selling 15 shares of stock at $1,000 each. They then obtained water rights from Ashland Creek and proceeded to build a small electrical generator right near the entrance to Lithia Park.
Three years later, the first electric light was turned on in Ashland's Plaza and the investor-owned utility began stringing distribution lines around the city, charging customers $1 dollar per month for each light bulb in use. They also created special electric rates for some customers. For example, local churches received a half rate and so did bedroom lights, presumably because they were used less than other lights. Saloons, of which Ashland had several, were charged the highest electric rate.
Soon, more electrical power was needed and Ashland Power and Light began purchasing electricity from the Condor Company, which built a power line from Gold Ray Dam on the Rogue River to Ashland by way of Central Point and Jacksonville.
At the turn of the century, local governments and its citizens took activist stands on local issues. The city found itself embroiled in controversy with the power company over rates and service. In 1904, the Ashland City Council brought suit against the power company over water rights along Ashland Creek. They canceled Ashland Power and Light's franchise with the city and condemned the utility. The issue went to court and would take years to resolve.
Subsequent rulings favored the city's position and in 1906, the City of Ashland took charge of the electric company along with its ditches, power plant, water rights and land. Ashland Power and Light, however, kept its distribution system and continued to supply the city with power through the Condor Company's lines.
In 1908, the city installed its own 300-kilowatt hydroelectric plant in the hills above Ashland. The Reeder Gulch plant provided all of Ashland's electrical needs at the time. The city council then voted to repeal the perpetual franchise granted to Ashland Power and Light back in 1889, and ordered it to remove its poles and wires from city streets. The power company sued and a Federal Court judge ruled against the city, claiming the franchise could not be revoked. The situation by then had become quite hostile.
By 1915, the California Oregon Power Company, better known as COPCO, purchased the Condor Company and Ashland Power and Light. COPCO officials decided to lease its distribution lines to the City of Ashland in return for a contract to sell electricity inside the city. A few years later, the city bought the distribution lines from COPCO. For nearly a century now, all sales and distribution of electrical power in Ashland has been sold through this public utility operated by the City of Ashland on behalf of its citizens.
By 1916 with a growing population and business district, the city's hydro plant could not keep up with demand. In that year and each year there after, the utility began purchasing increasing amounts of additional power from COPCO and later from Pacific Power and Light at wholesale prices. The city, in turn, sold power to its citizens over its own distribution lines at retail prices. Contracts for the purchase of power continued uninterrupted for the next 64 years.
In 1962 the antique hydroelectric plant on Ashland Creek was shut down but reopened in 1985 with a new generator. It produces less than two percent of the city's electrical needs.
Electrical power is distributed to consumers in the United States by two types of utilities:
1) Investor-owned utilities ex: Pacific Power & Light Company
2) publicly owned utilities ex: the City of Ashland
About 25 percent of the nation's electric consumers are served by publicly owned utilities.
There are benefits to municipal ownership. Ashland's utility is run by a city council elected from the utility's own customers. They can be more responsive to local needs.
Local ownership also protects against monopolization of a vital public service by a few large private companies.
Public power was introduced into the Pacific Northwest by the city of McMinnville in 1889, the same year Ashland Power and Light began service. In the 1930's that public power became available on a mass scale. The concept was to provide all Americans with what was called "postage-stamp" electricity rates, where all Americans paid the same rate.
Congress created the Bonneville Power Administration in 1937.
Bonneville Dam, located east of Portland, was the first major New Deal project in the Northwest built by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. It was the first Flood-control hydroelectric dam built across the Columbia River. Its massive turbines have supplied millions of kilowatt-hours of low cost electricity every year since 1938.
Bonneville would market for the federal government, the new power, rather than leave it to private industry to distribute.
By 1943, 96 percent of Columbia River electricity was used for war manufacturing. The war led to the creation of the Northwest Power Pool, a cooperative effort by public and private utilities to increase interconnections and exchanges of electric power.
With one half of all BPA electricity reserved for public power uses, Oregon and Washington lawmakers approved legislation allowing residents in rural areas and cities to form public utility districts or PUDs and electric cooperatives. All would buy cheap hydropower from BPA and distribute it to customers throughout the Northwest insuring local ownership, control and lower electric rates for consumers. BPA, the marketer for this federal electricity is headquartered in Portland.
In February 1982, the City of Ashland changed its wholesale electric power supplier. They ended a decades-old relationship with Pacific Power and Light Company and began purchasing power directly from the Bonneville Power Administration. BPA offered the City of Ashland, not only a stable long-term supply of low-cost power, but an array of conservation programs and technical assistance and thereby became the 124th city to purchase power from BPA.
Ashland's contract to purchase wholesale electricity from BPA is in effect until the year 2028.
Power purchased from BPA is delivered to Ashland over PP&L transmission lines, where it is distributed from three substations for consumers. Ashland's municipal utility serves about eleven (11,000) thousand customers with residential consumers making up about 85 percent of the total. Electrical rates within the City of Ashland are low with purchases of power approximately 95% carbon free.
The City of Ashland’s Electric Department over the years has been very concerned their responsibility to the environment. The Department removed transformers or switches that had PCB oil in them and replaced them with transformers with safe environmentally friendly oil.
There are areas in town where small animals find their way up a power pole. In these areas, for example, the department has put guards on our transformers to keep squirrels from electrocuting themselves.
Our tree trimming program is designed to “train” the trees to grow around our lines, as much as possible. The department is fortunate to have an Arborists on staff and utilizes expertise when trimming.
The City of Ashland's Electric Department has received national recognition for Excellence in Reliability from American Public Power Association (APPA) since 2014.