A Powerful Beginning Energizes a Bright Future
Moorhead Public Service is proud to show its age. Though the utility was officially created by City Council resolution in 1896, Moorhead’s municipal power plant actually generated energy which lit up the night sky on November 1, 1895. The magic of electricity is as captivating today as it was over 100 years ago. Whether energizing carbon arc streetlights or powering up your computer, it’s the energy that make things work. From the minute your alarm clock wakes you up in the morning to watching the news on television at night, we live in an electrified world.
In 1895, Moorhead citizens petitioned the City Council to build a municipal power plant, freeing itself from reliance upon its neighbor across the Red River of the North, and the privately-held electric company that had provided power to both cities. Photo taken above is front of the new light plant, circa late 1890s.
The electric and water utility in Moorhead was established because the citizens wanted local control. Now, more than one hundred years later, this form of utility governance provides more direct and local control than any other utility structure, with open meetings, open records and a local Public Service Commission comprised of the customers we serve.
Moorhead Public Service’s past illustrates stiff challenges, difficult choices, and innovative solutions. We are proud of the past, as well as being equally proud of the steps we’re taking to ensure our future in a deregulated utility industry environment.
This 100-year history report of Moorhead Public Service was created by Carol Renner for the 1995 Annual Report. Thanks to Bill Beck, Flint Communications, John Borge, Anne Lennox, and The Forum for their contributions to this report. Special thanks to Mark Peihl and Pam Burkhardt of the Clay County Historical Society.
Part I: Dancing in the Streets
The year was 1895. A pocket Kodak introduced by Eastman Kodak gained immediate success. "America the Beautiful" was a popular song. And Guglielmo Marconi had just pioneered wireless telegraphy. Amidst such technological advances, Moorhead’s community-owned power plant began providing light on November 1, 1895.
Part II: A Rocky Start
The technology of generating, transmitting and distributing electric power was well-enough advanced in the 1890s that Moorhead’s Electric Light and Water Plant experienced relatively few start-up problems. By 1898, the plant was a moneymaker for the city; in March of that year, the superintendent reported receipts of $1,353.83 and disbursements of $941.85, leaving a balance of $411.98.
Part III: The Threat of Typhoid
When the City of Moorhead built its Electric Light and Water Plant in 1895, it took over the water pumping station. Because the water supply of the city came directly from the Red River of the North, residents were cautioned to boil water used for drinking and cooking. But water-borne diseases plagued city residents throughout the 1890s and the first decade of the twentieth century.
Part IV: The Middle Years
In 1925, the backers of a major power plant expansion in Moorhead noted that the Minnesota city was "one of a comparatively few cities in the Northwest which owned and successfully operated its own water and electric light plant. We have watched town after town get into financial difficulties with its power plant and then connect up with a high line of one of the great power companies."
Part V: The Strike
Moorhead old-timers simply referred to it as "the strike." In the early morning hours of January 11, 1943, the staff of the Moorhead Water and Light Department walked off the job, idling the city’s power plant and water pumping station.
Part VI: The Postwar Boons
During World War II, electric power consumption in Moorhead had stagnated after more than a decade of nearly continuous growth. There were several reasons for the flattening out of load growth: Moorhead and the rest of the nation were on double daylight-saving time as a wartime energy conservation measure. In addition, appliance manufacturing had been all but suspended during the war in favor of defense production; appliances were almost impossible to buy during the war.
In the 1950's, television sets became commonplace
Part VII: Strengthening the System
The drilling of wells in the Buffalo Aquifer and the completion of the water treatment plant in 1951, coupled with the initial delivery of hydroelectric power from the federal Bureau of Reclamation in 1957, ushered in what the Moorhead Water and Light Department hoped would be a quiet era of growth and stability.
Part VIII: Into the Second Century
When Tom Heller joined Moorhead Public Service in 1976, power economics in the Upper Midwest were in a state of change. The Rock Lake, North Dakota, native was fresh out of North Dakota State University with a degree in electrical engineering, and he found the challenge he wanted at the busy Moorhead Public Service Commission.
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