“Longmont should own its electric light plant and the power can be generated in the mountains so cheaply that the city can be illuminated at small cost.” – Longmont Ledger newspaper (Jan. 28, 1910)
How did Longmont get its own electricity, anyway?
In Longmont, we’ve had the power for a long time. Over a hundred years in fact. The city started its own electric utility in 1912 and it’s been a vital part of the community ever since. But how did we plug into all of this?
Eight Is Great!
Eight electric lamps, that is – the first electric lights of any kind that Longmont had. Those were switched on in 1886, with three of them in the Bank of Longmont and five at Preston’s Store, all run off of one generator. It must have been a bright idea – by 1890, the downtown had streetlights, and a steam-powered plant to run them.
Who Turned Out the Lights?
From 1892 until 1911, Longmont’s power came from the Northern Colorado Power Company – and “Northern” didn’t have a lot of attention or electricity to give Longmont. Electric lights were only allowed between 6:00 and 8:00 at night. Want more light bulbs? You had to get permission. Big power was for big cities; smaller towns mostly got frustration.
Talkin’ ‘Bout Our Generation
If you think Longmont got sick of poor service … well, you’re right. In 1911, the town said “no thanks” to Northern and voted to build a hydroelectric – water-powered – plant near Lyons. (It still runs today!) Northern responded by suing. Longmont responded by boycotting Northern, with many residents using kerosene lamps rather than plug into Northern’s electricity.
Longmont's original hydroelectric plant (above) near Lyons is still in use today.
A Brilliant Thank-You
Longmont finally won the court case, and the right to run its own power plant, in 1912 and celebrated by giving every home a free porch light, where the residents wouldn’t be charged for the electricity that the light used. To this day, every home has a free light of some sort, whether it’s a porch light, a sidewalk “pedestal light,” or something similar.
What happens when a city gets bigger? Its electric needs do, too. In 1931, Longmont tripled its power supply by building a diesel plant on First Avenue. Closed down in 1967, it’s now the delicious home of Cheese Importers.
For over 35 years, this diesel plant (above) was a major power source for Longmont.
Where the Buffalo Roam
When four cities get together, they can be powerful indeed. In 1973, Longmont, Loveland, Fort Collins, and Estes Park formed the Platte River Power Authority, which generates electricity for all four cities. Besides running one of the cleanest coal plants in the country, PRPA even has its own herd of bison. Yee-haw!
Here Comes the Sun
There’s a lot of ways to get power and PRPA uses as many as it can – coal, wind, water, natural gas. In 2016, solar got added to the mix, with the new 30 megawatt Rawhide Flats plant, which covers 185 acres and uses more than 117,000 solar panels . You might say that people quickly warmed to the prospect – especially since that sunlight brings enough power to operate 8,000 homes.
A bright, sunny day means more power for Rawhide Flats (below) near Fort Collins