1890 – 1910
The Crawfordsville Electric Light & Power Company has a long and colorful history. The enterprise was officially formed as a publicly owned entity in 1890. Actually, the City of Crawfordsville was a pioneer in its desire to have a municipal light plant. History indicates that the justification for the city wanting to control its own destiny was due to its ongoing battles with privately owned firms that supplied the city with gas, electric lighting as well as water. Needless to say, the move by the city was a controversial political issue. Some citizens and elected officials questioned the city’s decision to own and operate such a facility. During this turbulent time, many other Indiana cities pushed for legislation allowing them to own and operate municipal electrical plants. Although many political obstacles and legal battles that took place with the private companies had to be overcome prior to the operation of the city’s first plant, the first Crawfordsville plant was christened on September 9, 1891. Originally, the plant was built with a sole purpose of providing a cost saving lighting source for the City of Crawfordsville. Immediately after the completion of the system, business and citizens of the community expressed a desire to have the city’s plant provide lighting to them as well. Later that year, an Indiana Supreme Court ruling overturned the previous decision by the Circuit Court that prohibited cities from providing electricity to local manufacturers, stores and private dwellings. As a result of the legislative changes, CEL&P quickly moved to satisfy the needs and desires of business owners and residents in addition to the City. For the next two decades, CEL&P played a vital role in the growth of Crawfordsville.
1910 – 1930
The city grew very quickly during the period of 1910 to 1930, and so did the demand for more electric lights and power. By the end of the decade, businessmen and manufacturers in the community wanted a new power plant in Crawfordsville. On July 30, 1910, the city decided to purchase property east of Sugar Creek and build a modern plant at an approximate cost of over $100,000. A new site was essential due to the increased requirements for water needed by a larger generating facility. On July 3, 1911 the new plant began operations. Shortly after the time of completion and when the facility was operational, another controversy started to brew over the rate structure. As part of the initial justification of the new plant, businesses and the residents were advised that a more efficient plant would lead to a reduction in their bills. However, after the plant began production, no adjustments were made. The public and the local newspaper became quite critical. The cost of the new facility was $120,000 (20% higher than the original cost estimate). What surfaced was that during construction of the plant, additional equipment was installed. The Board had concluded, “Given the rapidly growing demand of electricity for household appliances, the growth of industry, and the recent annexation of a new area into the city, it was their responsibility to plan for the future by installing more equipment in the plant than was originally planned.” The size of the building was increased to accommodate a third turbine and a fourth boiler for whenever the growth in business is demanded. Sure enough in 1919, the city needed a new turbine in order to handle the capacity needed by the expanding industry in Crawfordsville, and by 1928 another boiler was needed to handle the growing city. The Board, which took heat for making an economic judgment call, found their decision very insightful. The decision to upgrade actually saved the city a substantial sum of money over the long run.
1930 – 1940
As CEL&P entered the next decade, the organization was encouraged to find that the utility was earning substantial profits as a result of its prudent business practices and wise decision making in the previous years. In January of 1935, the utility reported a net profit from the previous year of over $97,000. In the February meeting of the City Council, the superintendent announced that he expected a reduction in the rate structure. City officials were enthusiastic by the publicized reduction. Lower rates would make the utility, which was already one of the lowest in the state, the most cost-effective source of electricity in Indiana. Later that year, the plant established a record of over 10 years of continuous service, which was considered to be unequaled in Indiana. By the end of 1938, it was again time to consider increasing the generating capacity of the plant and upgrading the equipment. As a result of the successful financial operation of CEL&P, it was determined that the upgrade could be handled without the need for a bond issue. Most of the funds were available in the depreciation fund, which was established specifically for the replacing of obsolete and inadequate equipment. By the end of 1939, the plant upgrades had been completed making it once again one of the most modern plants of its kind. In fact, on the company’s fiftieth anniversary, city officials publicly gave credit to those, “with the pioneering spirit, that had the courage and the leadership to pursue a vision.” They said, “Our everlasting debt of gratitude is due to those foresighted and public spirited men who conceived and directed the institution of CEL&P through the first years of its uncertain existence. Time has proven the wisdom of their actions. “By the end of this period, not only had the utility served the needs of this community, but had also supplied electricity to eleven other towns and villages surrounding Crawfordsville.
As a side note, CEL&P had been of great value to the community beyond just providing electricity. In fact, the retaining earnings of the utility had been used to invest in the modernization of other areas of the city, even during a time in which the rates were among the lowest in the state. In short, the utility had been used to advance the city and make it a better place to live.
1941 – 1950
During this decade many challenges faced CEL&P. Some of these included:
1. Federal government orders to conserve energy during WWII
2. Political battles between the Board of Works and the Crawfordsville City Council
3. Discontinuance of providing power to The Montgomery Electric Light and Power Company
4. Selling of CEL&P assets to Public Service Company (now Cinergy / PSI)
Consumers of power were asked to drastically reduce the amount of electricity being used during the early 1940’s. The results of those orders were “Brown Outs”. Even during this time of conservation, requirements for more generating capacity were evident. New improvements were needed or the plant capacity would not be able to handle the needs of the community within 2 years. Consequently, a systematic plan was proposed for improvement over the next three years. The estimated cost of the improvements would be $750,000. The improvements would include a new turbine, new condensers, a de-aerator, an induced draft fan, and a physical expansion of the plant. It was conventional wisdom that when the upgrades would be completed, CEL&P would be the most efficient and the most financially healthy municipal electric light plant in the Mid-West. Because of the commercial growth in Crawfordsville and the increasing load on CEL&P, the utility requested to be released from its obligation to provide power to the Montgomery Light & Power Company which served towns in the northern part of the county. These cities include Linden, New Richmond, and Wingate and surrounding rural areas. By April of 1948, the state regulatory commission approved CEL&P’s yearlong request and ordered PSI to begin providing the power to the Montgomery Company as soon as possible. In June of that year, the council approved the sale of the CEL&P Lines running to Alamo and Wallace in the southern half of the county.
During the next two decades, challenges continued for CEL&P. In January 1951, the city again was facing a power shortage despite increased investment in the generation capacity of the existing plant. This need was due to the power requirements requested by a new company moving into town called Raybestos-Manhattan. Raybestos announced that it would build a new plant at the edge of Crawfordsville. Rather than making another large investment in the plant, the city opted to sell more of its rural lines to PSI. PSI in return was to construct a tie line to the City in order to secure a backup source of power for the city and give CEL&P enough power to supply new business in town. During this time frame, the utility installed a loop around the city designed to have 4 substations. The advantage of the loop would be that the new system would be able to energize to all parts of the city from the plant from either end of the circuit. Therefore, if weather related problems knocked down a line, it would drastically reduce the number of customers from being affected by a power outage. In November of 1960 during a general election, the voters of Crawfordsville officially decided to create a Utility Service Board to govern the electric utility. One of the first acts of the Board was to approve the expansion plans that had already been outlined. The board determined that the rates should be modernized and the utility should be ran like a business in order to be competitive. In 1968, the Utility Service Board also announced another agreement with PSI for an inter-connect agreement. The purpose of the inter-connect was for the city to secure instantaneous supply of power if a catastrophic plant failure occurred. Along with this agreement, CEL&P was able to draw resources from PSI for the future needs of the city without another costly investment in the local plant. During 1965, CEL&P celebrated its 75th year of operations. During this time it grew from a tiny system serving a few hundred incandescent lights to a modern utility serving over 6500 customers including several major industries. Also notable during this time period, with the exception of $55,000 of bonds sold for the initial construction of the plant, the utility had been financed from its own earnings. It had a plant generating capacity of 40 megawatts and an advanced transmission loop of 13,800 volts via distribution substations. It also had a rate structure that was competitive with any community in Indiana including those served by private utilities. The local newspaper also commented that the local electric light plant contributed more than just electricity to the City of Crawfordsville. Without CEL&P, local industry could not survive and the taxpayers benefit from the money the company contributes to the city’s general fund.
During the latter part of the seventies, another major issue faced CEL&P. A prolonged coal strike was creating a crisis. The situation forced the city, the state, and the national government to implement a program for energy conservation. The citizens of Crawfordsville, as in the past, rose to the challenge. Even national television networks visited the city and promoted our community as a model for conserving energy. CEL&P became active with ten other Indiana municipals in forming a joint action agency to strengthen its negotiation leverage regarding purchasing power. In February of 1980, the state legislature passed a bill allowing a proposed joint action agency which was to be known as the Indiana Municipal Power Agency (IMPA) of which 11 communities would participate. Also during this time, CEL&P had another expansion. The utility constructed a new 40 MVA substation, a 138 KV transmission loop around the community, and a new utility service building. CEL&P also restructured its rates to modernize its service. By early 1983, CEL&P began to receive its power from IMPA, which owned 24.95% of the PSI Gibson 5 station; the largest fossil fueled generating plant in the world. By the end of the next year, the new service building was dedicated bringing to an end this most recent expansion of CEL&P. Even with the cost of the expansion, the Indiana Public Service Commission findings reported that Crawfordsville had one of the lowest rates in the state. At a later time, a SCADA system was installed which automatically monitors the substations for loads, voltages, current flow, and transformers. The SCADA computer allows CEL&P to quickly monitor, evaluate and control problems on the local grid 24 hours a day. The technology greatly improved the systems reliability and gave CEL&P the ability to become a proactive planner as opposed to reacting to a problem. Also, microcomputers were acquired in order to automate the meter reading system. In 1990, CEL&P celebrated 100 years of successful operations. As the oldest municipally owned electric company in the state, the anniversary of the utility was a notable event. CEL&P was again recognized by city officials as a valuable asset, not only for its ability to provide low cost and reliable power, but for its role in the progressive growth of the city as a while. The annual contribution to the city was upwards of $275,000. Some of the monies that the city had received from the utility in the years had gone for the acquisition of the Lane Place, the golf course, the city building, along with several other assets. It was also noted that affordable electric rates attracted industry and commercial business into the community. The mayor also commended the five member utility board for its ability to guide the utility during its expansion programs and its dedication to operating CEL&P like a business. As a part of the anniversary, a book was published, “100 YEARS OF PUBLIC POWER” (much of this information in this review / history section has been derived from this book).