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75 Years of PUD Public Power

1990s – Population booms and major storms

Man works in a cabinet with large electrical equipment behind him
Stimson Crossing Switching Station

The early ’90s saw the PUD grow to over 200,000 customers as Snohomish County and Camano Island saw a huge influx of construction and new residents. Those residents joined a public power utility that continued to champion the benefits of conservation and work toward a greener future for its customers.

Many of those customers were impacted by the Inaugural Day Storm in 1993. The storm – the worst in the PUD’s history – knocked out power to about 80% of our customers. It took days to assess the full damage of the storm, which knocked down power lines from Camano Island to the King County border.

Fallen tree lying across power lines
Storm damage

But, as it had done continuously throughout its first five decades, the PUD rebuilt after the storm. Our crews continued their generations-long work of providing reliable power to our customer-owners and quickly worked to restore power. A few years later, in 1999, the PUD celebrated its 50th anniversary.

PUD Pioneers – Kathy Vaughn Woman smiling wearing glasses and dark jacket

In 1994, Kathy was one of the first women elected to the PUD’s Board of Commissioners and continued to help lead the utility for the next 24 years. To this day, she still holds the mark for the longest-serving commissioner in the PUD’s history.

Kathy served four six-year terms representing District 2 – which covers southwest Snohomish County including Lynnwood and Edmonds. A Lynnwood native, Kathy was a mortgage-loan broker who had never previously run for office when she won her first election in 1994.

During her time at the PUD, Kathy helped oversee tremendous growth for the utility. She helped approve a 10-year grid modernization program that greatly improved our system reliability. She was also on the commission that adopted a climate change policy in 2007 – helping the PUD become one of the first utilities in the Northwest to do so. Kathy also voted to approve the PUD’s first foray into solar projects and helped the PUD establish some of the strongest net metering customer programs in the state.

Commissioner Vaughn also helped expand our hydro footprint, approving several projects including Youngs Creek and our Hancock and Calligan Creek Hydroelectric projects.

“I have worked to make decisions with the environment, being a good steward of our resources and you, the customers in mind,” Kathy told My Edmonds News in 2018. “I have had the ability to bring new technology, enhance existing programs and promote ideas that developed low-income and senior programs, and expanded conservation, bringing cost savings to all customers.”

Along with serving the PUD and its customers, Kathy was a member of the American Public Power Association’s Policy Makers Council, which works on national energy policy issues in Washington, D.C. She also served on the Board of Directors for Energy Northwest and was selected Business Woman of the Year in 2005 by the Snohomish Business Journal.

PUD serves as a test ground for new electric vehicle

Dark green Ford ranger pickup truck
The 1998 Ford Ranger EV prototype

In 1997, Ford Motor Company’s new Ford Ranger Electric Vehicle was on display at the PUD Electric Building lobby. It was the debut of a new generation of electric vehicles. The truck was powered by a 2,000-pound lead-acid battery system and had a range of about 50 miles. The PUD wanted to showcase this new technology to encourage the development of environmentally sound transportation.

The PUD’s Transportation Department was instrumental in bringing the prototype to Everett, where it was tested by driving a meter reading route for a day!

1980s – Building toward an environmentally sustainable future

Workers building a power line to the Sultan River Hydroelectric Project.
Installed in 1981 to carry power to the job site, this transmission line’s ultimate use was delivering energy from the Jackson powerhouse into the PUD’s generating system.

During the ’80s, the PUD continued to build the utility that serves you today. In 1980, our Operations Center near the Boeing Plant was completed. It is a central hub for our crews and houses other crucial departments such as Engineering, Transportation and our Maps and Records group.

We also completed the second phase of our Sultan project, later named the Jackson Hydroelectric Project, in 1985. The 112-megawatt hydroelectric facility produces about 7% of our power needs and generates enough electricity to power more than 56,000 homes with clean, renewable energy. In addition, Spada Lake – the Jackson project reservoir – provides 75% of the drinking water supply to Snohomish County. It also offers numerous recreational opportunities like boating, hiking and picnicking, as well as incidental flood control.

An energy technician uses smoke to show a TV news crew the lack of air infiltration in a Good Sense Home.
Energy tech using smoke to show the lack of air infiltration in a Good Sense Home, 1983.

Conservation and sustainability have been at the heart of the PUD since the beginning. By the time the 1980s rolled around, we had a variety of conservation programs in place to help customers save energy and money. We continued those efforts throughout the decade and, by 1989, our conservation programs had reached 1 billion kilowatt hours in savings!

PUD Pioneers – Danny Miles

Danny Miles stands in front of a huge boring machine during construction of the Jackson Project
Danny Miles during Jackson construction

Hydroelectric projects in Snohomish County all have one thing in common: Danny Miles.

As a PUD engineer for 39 years, Danny’s fingerprints are all over the PUD’s hydro projects, from working as an inspector on the Henry M. Jackson Hydroelectric Project to lead engineer on more recent run-of-the-river hydropower projects like Hancock Creek and Calligan Creek projects.

Danny also worked as lead engineer on the construction of Youngs Creek hydro project near Sultan and Woods Creek outside of Monroe.

Danny Miles stands in front of powerhouse elements
Danny in 2015

As an inspector during the Jackson project’s construction, Danny helped shepherd the project to completion in 1985. The project involved using a tunnel boring machine, measuring 14 feet in diameter, to bore a four-mile tunnel from Spada Lake intake to the powerhouse. During the course of the tunneling, about 3 million cubic feet of rock and sediment were removed.

Danny had an encyclopedic knowledge of the PUD’s hydro projects. While overseeing the projects, he oversaw construction on-site, hammered out contract details, traveled to foreign countries to inspect equipment, and mentored future PUD engineers and students.

Danny passed away in 2019, leaving an indelible legacy as a public servant, hydro expert and enthusiastic explorer.

The 1970s – The original conservation sensations

The Electric Building lobby in 1970
The PUD Electric Building lobby in 1970
A barge laying submarine cable from Everett to Hat Island
Barge laying submarine cable to Hat Island

As the PUD reached over 100,000 customers, our focus remained improving reliability and service for our customer-owners. In 1970, we completed a two-story addition to the Electric Building, our downtown Everett headquarters, located on California Street and Virginia Avenue.

Shortly after, we worked to energize Hat Island with construction of an underground distribution system on the island and the installation of almost 16,000 feet of submarine cable. (Interestingly, we are currently designing and planning a new submarine cable to replace the one currently connecting the island.)

A mother and child stop at the PUD booth in 1977 for Energy Conservation tips
PUD energy fair, 1977

Late in the decade, the PUD’s Energy Conservation Program was developed and established. In what has become a goal for the utility ever since, the PUD realized that one of the most effective ways to help customers save money was to help them curb their energy needs. The first program included energy audits for residential customers, public information programs and advertising, energy-efficient designs in new facilities, and upgrading existing ones with various conservation measures.

Photo of Charles Yates PUD Head Groundsman 1978
C. Yates, Head Groundsman, 1978

In 1979, your PUD broke ground on construction of our Operations Center in south Everett near the Boeing plant. The Operations Center, or Ops as it’s known to PUD insiders, is still the hub for our line and substation crews, engineers, transportation department and more.

The worst windstorm in 17 years – since the Columbus Day Storm – struck the area in February 1979, leaving about 50,000 of our 130,000 customers without power. Storm damage ran over half a million dollars.

PUD Pioneers – Thomas Quast

One of the first PUD commissioners, Thomas Quast was instrumental in shaping the utility. He was elected in 1948 – one year before the PUD officially purchased the electrical distribution system to serve all of Snohomish County and Camano Island – and was re-elected five times, serving as a PUD Commissioner for 27 years.

Line drawing of long-time PUD Commissioner Thomas Quast
Commissioner Quast

Under Quast’s leadership, the PUD transformed into a leader in public power. While he was commissioner, the PUD developed much of the grid and constructed many of the buildings still in use today. Quast helped oversee tremendous growth for the PUD and worked with the other commissioners to form a stable base to allow the utility to meet future needs.

Quast was on the board of directors of the Washington Public Power Supply System, a trustee of the Northwest Public Power Association, and an honorary life member of the American Public Power Association.

Quast owned and operated Cedarcrest Golf Course in Marysville for 34 years, through the Great Depression as well as World War II. His daughter, Anne Quast, went on to become a three-time U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, a British Women’s Amateur Champion and a three-time U.S. Senior Women’s Amateur champion. She was also an eight-time Curtis Cup player.

Quast was married to his wife Joan for 62 years, until his death in 1997.

The 1960s – Expanding in our communities

If the PUD spent the 1950s building its core business in downtown Everett, it spent the next decade expanding.

Click here to see PUD trucks of the 1960s

Receptionist with 1960s beehive hairdo answers calls at the PUD Lynnwood office in 1968.
Answering phones at the Lynnwood office, 1968

To better engage with customers, the PUD began building offices across its service territory. It started with an office in Arlington opening in 1959, and continued into the 1960s, with offices in Stanwood (1960), Monroe (1961), Snohomish (1965) and Lynnwood (1968). Customers visited these offices to pay bills, talk with customer service representatives and have questions answered by PUD experts.

PUD service territory system map of 1962
The PUD electrical system, 1962 (click to enlarge)

The PUD was also instrumental in helping the region grow. PUD engineers worked to ensure that significant buildings like the Boeing production plant, Weyerhaeuser Paper Mill, and Snohomish County Courthouse were built in the most energy-efficient way. The PUD also advised on reconstruction after a fire on the Everett waterfront damaged buildings in 1961.

Click here to see communities through the lens of the PUD 1965 Annual Report

Sultan River Project Culmback Dam signage from the 1960Early in the decade, one of the PUD’s largest undertakings ever began with construction on our Sultan River Project. Phase 1 involved building Culmback Dam to a height of 200 feet to form Spada Lake, which was completed in 1965. Along with creating an independent way to produce electricity, the project sought to provide an ample water supply to Snohomish County. The dam remains co-owned by the PUD and City of Everett.

This decade of expansion wasn’t without rebuilding. The Columbus Day Windstorm in October 1962 wreaked havoc in the Northwest, including the PUD’s service territory. The storm caused about $250,000 in damage to PUD facilities and equipment – roughly $2.5 million in today’s dollars.

Huge tree limbs rest across a road as the result of the 1962 Columbus Day storm

The 1950s – Building our new home

Exterior of the PUD Service building in the 1950s shows cars and line trucks neatly parked
The PUD service building after completion
The electric building under construction in 1954
PUD service building under construction, 1954

With the PUD established and providing affordable power to Snohomish County and Camano Island, it was quickly clear that upgrades and infrastructure improvements were needed to serve a growing customer base.

Our first service shop was completed in 1955 in downtown Everett. It featured a store room, garage and transformer repair shop, and parking for line trucks.

Speaking of line trucks, when the electric properties were purchased in 1949, there were 44 cars and trucks and nine trailers in service. By the end of the decade, those vehicles were replaced and the PUD boasted a pool of 78 cars and trucks and 13 trailers – plus five cars and trucks for the Water Department. Two hydraulic lifts were also in operation and utilized primarily for tree trimming.

During a 1955 Open House, Meter Supervisor Arnold Nelson explains meter to boy scouts
PUD service building community open house, 1955

But we weren’t done there! Three years later, our company headquarters was completed right alongside the service shop. The inaugural Electric Building, located where it currently sits at the corner of California Street and Virginia Avenue, opened to help us serve the public. The 35,000-square foot building cost $19 per square foot to build. It was only two stories tall at the time, but was built so that it could accommodate future expansion down the road.

A photo of the electric building lobby interior from 1958

From the archives: view your PUD’s first-decade accomplishments

The PUD’s origins – 1930s & 40s

A map of the electrical distribution system 1932
Rural distribution system map (1932)

In the early 1900s, a new idea was sweeping across the Pacific Northwest: public power. While electricity had long been supplied by private companies and seen as a privilege for the wealthy, many felt electricity was an essential part of daily life and a fundamental right. Agriculture workers and small towns argued they needed it to drive economic growth. But rather than become a financial opportunity, they believed electricity should be regarded as a public service, like roads, schools or parks, and that electric companies should be owned by the public and provide their product at-cost.

A very boxy electrical service truck from 1936
Line truck (1936)

Following the growing public power movement across much of the state, Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1 was created by a vote of the people on Nov. 3, 1936. However, it took a few years for the PUD to get some infrastructure set up, as well as raise enough money to purchase the region’s electrical distribution system.

Th­e PUD began operations as a water utility in the Lake Stevens area in 1946. ­Three years later, on September 1, 1949, the PUD purchased the electrical distribution system for Snohomish County and Camano Island from Puget Sound Power & Light Company. ­The price? $16 million, which was raised through the sale of electric revenue bonds. That would be over $206 million in today’s dollars.

Public power in Snohomish County and Camano Island was born!

A 1930s electrical truck working on power lines in a brick alley
Alley Construction, Everett (1934)
Huge logs litter a road surrounding a 1930s vehicle deep in the woods
Damage from a windstorm (October, 1934)
A framework of metal, cables in electrical equipment making up a 1930s substation in Monroe, WA
Substation in Monroe (1934)
An unpaved road with 1920s-30s vehicles and charming buildings
Snohomish Business District (1936)
Workers repairing a downed power line in 1936
Downed power lines (1936)

Watch for fresh historical photos and information monthly!