Centennial Report

City of Chicopee
Municipal Lighting Plant
1896 - 1996

To provide the community with reliable electric service at the lowest cost, consistent with providing resources for proper maintenance, system modernization, and future capacity expansion. As a consumer owned utility, our employees are committed to serving its customers needs and striving for excellence in our daily operations.

Managers Report

On May 28, 1996 the people of Chicopee marked a significant milestone in the history of our community. Exactly 100 years ago on that date, the Chicopee Municipal Lighting Plant began operating its own electric generating plant.

That momentous occasion so long ago was the culmination of several years of effort by community leaders unhappy with the unsatisfactory service they had received from a private, investor-owned utility. Instead of continuing to rely on others, those early community leaders took control of their electric service, thus securing the benefits of municipal ownership for themselves and for generations to come. They established a nonprofit utility, locally owned and locally controlled, dedicated to providing superior service at reasonable rates.

A century later, the people of Chicopee are still benefiting from the wisdom of those early leaders. Our utility is strong and solid, delivering first-rate, reliable electric service at competitive prices. As a municipal utility, owned by the people we serve, we also perform a variety of community service activities that enhance the quality of life in Chicopee.

We hope you enjoy this Centennial report, and appreciate the progress the Chicopee Municipal Lighting Plant has made over the past 100 years.

Barry W. Soden, General Manager

In 1895, Chicopee Mayor Alexander Grant appointed George E. Stebbins as the first manager of the city’s own electric light plant. This was an optimistic move, since the city had no plant at the time. Yet confidence was high that Chicopee would soon boast its own generating station. A Light Commission had also been appointed, and all were charged with the task of building an electric plant on Front Street and establishing a city-owned electric utility company.

The action capped nearly five years of effort by early citizens to gain control of their electric service. A private group, the Chicopee Gas and Electric Company, had previously been providing some electric lighting at a cost deemed too high by local voters. The Massachusetts Legislature in 1891 passed legislation allowing communities to establish their own electric utilities, and Chicopee lost little time moving toward acquiring their own utility.

The effort to free themselves from the private company required separate votes by the Common Council, Board of Aldermen and citizens of Chicopee, as well as protracted price negotiations with the private company. But in the end, the effort was worthwhile. By the beginning of 1896, Chicopee was in a position to begin building its own electric light plant.

On May 28, 1896, the first switch was thrown, lighting 118 direct current arc lights and 28 alternating current incandescent bulbs on the city’s principal streets. Some 400 poles, stout trees and building corners supported the electric wires. The bright lights were set to glow every night from dusk to midnight, except during bright moonlit nights.

Growth was rapid that first year, as citizens clamored for the new convenience of electric power. By the end of 1896, there were 66 domestic and commercial electric customers using 1,489 incandescent lamps. Street lighting had expanded to 487 incandescent lights and 127 arc lights. Before the end of the first fiscal year, the generating station had been upgraded several times to handle the increased demand for electric service.

1904 After eight years of operation, Chicopee’s coal-fired electric light plant had grown and expanded in order to serve the city’s population of 16,000. There were now 8,100 incandescent lamps in private homes, with 24-hour service. Daily all-night street lighting service was also in place, replacing the prior moonlight schedule.

By 1905, the electric plant’s income had jumped to $34,479, double its income of 1900. It was estimated that the cost of operating each of the city’s street lights was $63.84 per year, compared to the $75 charged under the limited moonlight schedule charged by the private Chicopee Gas and Electric Company a decade earlier.

1907 A new manager, James H. Forsythe, was named in 1907, along with a new light commission. The new administration set out at once on a program of progressive development including equipment upgrades, generation expansion and service extensions. The extension of circuits to Willimansett and Fairview, for example, allowed Chicopee to discontinue purchasing power from the South Hadley Falls Electric Company in 1910. This extension made possible a 27 percent increase in utility income. An electric rate of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour was established in 1910, in the hopes that this reasonable rate would make electric power more attractive to the private consumer.

In 1911, electrical engineering consultant, C.W. Whiting of Boston was hired to make a complete survey of the department’s financial and technical operations. His recommendations set the stage for a number of improvements implemented over the next several years.

To meet the city’s growing needs, the power station was completely remodeled in 1912. New boilers were added and an upgraded three-phase, 60-cycle system was adopted. The plant was now valued at $271,695, served 1,250 customers, and generated a yearly total of 1,522,314 kilowatt-hours by burning 4,780 tons of coal.

1915 Modernization continued in 1915, with a new electric storage battery truck and gasoline-powered runabouts replacing all horse drawn vehicles. Growth also continued, as the department added 16 new industrial customers who sought modern electric service. These new customers were a diverse group, ranging from the Dana S. Courtney Bobbin Shop to the Springfield Provision Company and Hampden Bleachery. In order to meet customer needs without building costly additional generation capacity, the department began buying part of its power requirements at an attractive rate from the Amherst Power Company, which had a surplus evening capacity.

Roy Benedict was named the new department manager in 1915, along with a new commission. C.W. Whiting was again engaged to analyze the department’s operation, with an eye toward improving its financial position. As a result of Whiting’s and Benedict’s analysis, street lighting and metering were improved, the city began paying the full cost of street lighting, and there was more careful maintenance of domestic circuits. These changes were responsible for an increase of income of more than 50 percent by the end of 1917.

1918 A study of Chicopee’s electric generation requirements in 1918 proved that it would be less expensive to buy power from outside vendors than to continue running the city’s generating plant. Generating equipment was in demand due to World War I, and so Chicopee’s equipment was quickly purchased by the War Department for $42,500. At the end of 1918, the changes had resulted in a department surplus of $9,027. Net earnings had reached the record high of $53,982.

1920s Revenues climbed sharply during this decade, spurred by the influence of a sharp post-war building boom. Thanks to a growing surplus, the department was able to reduce rates to share the benefits of increased sales with the city's electric consumers. A new rate schedule in 1921 cut the cost of the first 200 kilowatt-hours from eight cents to six cents. Further reductions were offered as the decade progressed.

There were 5,456 electric customers in 1923, with new customers being added at a rate of 1,000 each year. By 1925 there were 8,149 customers, an increase of 7,876 in 20 years.

There were other startling changes in the 20 years since 1905. Income grew from $32,486 in 1905 to $326,712 in 1925. Plant value had risen from $181,891 to $618,410. The department had a loss of $21,955 in 1905, but in 1925 it boasted a surplus of $218,227. The improved financial position made it possible to extend lines and improve voltage throughout the city without the need to take on debt.

By the end of the decade, an ambitious program to install modern White Way lighting in the city’s business sections had begun. Areas targeted for improvement included Market Square, Springfield, Center, Front and Exchange Streets in Chicopee Center; Broadway, Main and Market Streets in Chicopee Falls; Grattan Street in Aldenville; Chicopee and Meadow Streets and Buckley Boulevard in Willimansett, and Britton Street in Fairview.

1930 To relieve the problems of inadequate storage and office space at the Front Street station, a combined administration office, garage and storage facility was built at the Front Street site and occupied in 1930. Designed by architect Henry J. Tessier, the building was praised as modern and attractive, adding to the architectural attractiveness of the city.

The department’s strong financial position allowed for a series of payments to the city to repay money that had been appropriated to the department in its early developmental days. In 1932, a final payment of $32,000 to the City Treasurer marked the full repayment of all tax money used by the department. From then on, no tax money was used to support the city’s electric operation. That same year, the department began making voluntary in-lieu-of-tax payments to the city in order to help relieve the city’s tax burden.

To help unemployment in the face of the Depression, the department hired local workers to help complete a number of overhead line extensions and other system improvements. Federal Works Program workers were also used to begin an underground electric system along Front Street from Chicopee Center to Chicopee Falls and in most of the business areas of these two sections, as well as on Chicopee and Meadow Streets in Willimansett.

1936 A 20-year power supply contract with the Turners Falls Power and Electric Company expired at the end of 1936, offering Chicopee the opportunity to shop for a lower cost power supplier. The Holyoke Water Power Company offered a lower rate, and in 1937 the switch was made. The new contract immediately saved $45,000 per year, and resulted in rates for Chicopee’s electric customers that were among the lowest in the country.

The great hurricane of 1938 caused terrific storm and flood damage, as the hurricane’s center passed directly over the city. Yet despite scattered outages, the city never totally lost its supply of power. The Chicopee Falls covered bridge, the last in the vicinity, was swept away and with it one of the main power supply lines, but an alternate line prevented interruption of the main source of supply. Outages here were restored long before those in neighboring communities, demonstrating the advantages of a local system and work force.

In 1939, motivated by civic pride, the department donated an electrically operated water fountain for the newly built Szot Park.

1940s World War II brought the addition of the Army’s Westover Field Air Base to Chicopee. More than 12,000 soldiers and civilian personnel were attached to the base, with hundreds of fighters, bombers and transport planes flying in and out on military missions throughout the war. This hive of activity required substantial power supplies, and it fell to the Chicopee Electric Light Department (CELD) to meet the demand.

In 1942, the addition of the Base’s load boosted Chicopee’s power sales to 26,354,000 kilowatt-hours per year. In addition to the Base, the bulk of the city’s power load was engaged in war production of everything from rifles and machine guns to tires and hospital dressings. Essential production also included electronic instruments and even some of the equipment required in the development of atomic energy. To meet the increased need for electricity, the department extended its contract with Holyoke Water Power Company and accepted the company’s offer to build a third main feeder supply to the Front Street station at no cost to the city.

At the war’s close, annual power sales had passed the 30 million kilowatt-hour mark, and the Light Plant’s strong financial position made a customer dividend possible. In both 1945 and 1946, all domestic customers received one month’s free electricity.

1950s Chicopee’s post-war building boom increased the demand for electric service and taxed to capacity the available work crews as construction took place at a furious pace. Service extensions and improvements were underway throughout the city as the department raced to keep up with exploding growth.

On July 15, 1953, with the department in solid financial and technical shape, Roy P. Benedict retired after 38 years as department manager. He was succeeded by C. Duncan Brainard, a 34-year department employee. When Brainard retired four years later, the utility’s plant value had increased from $1,148,243 to $1,665,249.

John J. Korkosz, assistant manager with 21 years of service, was named manager in 1957, and continued oversight of the department’s rapid growth. Over the next few years, additional garage facilities at Front Street were completed, pole and electric wire extensions were installed to serve 888 additional meters, and a new substation to serve Chicopee Center was completed. Other improvements included underground conduits in the Chicopee Falls business area, along with three underground network transformer vaults.

By the end of the decade, several all-electric homes had been introduced in Chicopee, and the department was welcoming the continued entry of new industry at the Industrial Park.

1960s Industrial growth was a major factor in the 1960s, as Industrial Park expansion made it necessary to build an additional substation to serve the area. Substantial underground conduit construction also continued throughout the city to improve power quality and reliability.

As part of an ongoing street light improvement program, the department converted 765 existing light fixtures to new mercury vapor lamps in the early 1960s. The new lamps increased light output and lasted eight times longer than the incandescent lamps they replaced.

The economical advantages of all-electric homes were promoted by the utility, and by 1962 there were 91 such homes in Chicopee. That number had more than doubled by 1964, and by 1965 there were all-electric apartments, an all-electric fire station on Burnett Road and an all-electric school at Westover Air Force Base. All-electric commercial establishments flourished as well. A new contract with the Holyoke Water Power Company in 1964 assured the city’s power supply at favorable rates through 1979.

The massive Northeast blackout that occurred on November 9, 1965 at 5:16 p.m. caused just 94 minutes of power interruption to Chicopee. The entire city was in normal operation by 8 p.m. despite a continuing blackout from Niagara Falls to New York City.

In 1967, a $75,000 rate reduction was voted to allow consumers to share in the department’s success. That same year, the department completed new office facilities at Front Street.

By the close of the decade, the department served 19,800 customers who used nearly 250 million kilowatt-hours per year. At its 75th anniversary in 1971, the department voiced its pride in "its record of selling electricity at very low rates and providing its city with streetlights at one-third the cost of those provided in other communities. It is also proud of its record since 1932 of showing annual surpluses which permitted the department to contribute annually to the city to reduce local taxes."

1970 The 1970s saw an enormous shift in the way utilities do business, as a wave of economic and legislative changes pushed the electric utility industry into a new era. The economic recession in the early part of the decade put the brakes on the strong growth experienced by the department since World War II. Adding to the bad news in 1973 was the announcement that Westover Air Force Base would be phased-out by 1994, with an immediate curtailment of power consumption.

In addition, the 1973 Arab oil embargo triggered a world-wide energy crisis that pushed up power supply costs. As a result of these factors, consumers began to think about energy conservation, and it became more important than ever for utilities to seek out the lowest possible power supply costs.

Along with other municipal utilities across the state, Chicopee Electric Light Department had been lobbying and negotiating for years to gain the right to buy power directly from regional generating stations and even to purchase an ownership interest in outside power plants. In the early 1970s agreements were reached to allow Chicopee to buy power directly from several plants including the Vermont Yankee and Maine Yankee nuclear facilities.

In 1973 the state Legislature enabled municipal utilities to participate in joint ownership of power plants. This allowed utilities such as Chicopee’s to finance their ownership interest in such plants with revenue bonds, and to import power from outside the city by using the New England Power Pool’s transmission network.

In 1974, after 17 years as CELD’s manager, John Korkosz retired. He was succeeded by Assistant Manager Herve L. Plasse, a department employee with 19 years of service.

On January 14, 1975, Chicopee’s Light Board accepted a bid for the first public power revenue bonds to be issued in Massachusetts. The bonds were a consolidated issue for 13 municipal electric systems to become joint owners of the Millstone Unit No. 3 Nuclear Power Plant to be built in Waterford, Connecticut. In subsequent years, revenue bonds totaling $24 million were issued to pay for Chicopee’s portion of the Millstone project.

1976 As the department worked to secure long-term, low-cost power supply sources, it also continued to improve the quality and reliability of Chicopee’s electric distribution system. In December 1976, the department purchased the remainder of existing Holyoke Water Power Company subtransmission and substation facilities in the city, and continued to make system upgrades. Office systems were upgraded as well, with the addition of a computerized billing system in 1977.

The department completed construction of a local generating station in 1978. The three diesel-fired generators would be used to hold down power costs during peak use periods, and to produce power for sale outside Chicopee when needed.

In 1979, CELD became a full participant in the New England Power Pool, which dispatches power plants throughout New England in order to assure that all power needs are met in the most cost-effective manner possible.

1980 Electric sales continued to decrease in the early 1980s as power costs remained high. In 1984, CELD began offering home energy audits to all residential customers in an effort to help customers learn how to use energy wisely.

A bright note was the successful negotiation by the New England Power Pool to receive low-cost hydropower from Hydro-Quebec in Canada. Another low-cost power source became available in 1985 with the successful conclusion of years of litigation on behalf of the state’s municipal utilities. As a result of the litigation, hydro power from the Power Authority of the State of New York (PASNY) was made available to residential customers of the state’s public power systems. Chicopee’s share of this power was some four megawatts, which helped to reduce residential bills.

In 1986, Herve L. Plasse retired after 12 years as manager. He was succeeded by Barry W. Soden, who had joined the department in 1973 as an electric distribution engineer, and who had served as assistant manager since 1983. Power supply issues continued to take center stage, as the Millstone Unit No. 3 power plant went into commercial operation and the transmission intertie between Hydro-Quebec and the New England Power Pool was completed.

After three years of negotiation, Chicopee in 1988 reached an agreement with Northeast Utilities for power supply through 1998. That same year, for the first time, CELD entered into the power brokering business, buying and selling electrical capacity for relatively short periods of time in order to reduce power supply costs. This was significant since power supply represented some 80 percent of the department’s annual budget.

A three-year project to upgrade all existing street lights in the city from mercury vapor to more energy-efficient high pressure sodium fixtures was begun in 1988. The change saved the city more than $100,000 per year in energy costs. A number of other energy-saving projects were launched, including more energy-efficient lighting at the Szot Park athletic field, and EnergyEdge, a new residential energy conservation service.

By the end of the decade, CELD had initiated two major construction projects. The first was the renovation of the office building at 725 Front Street, and the second was a 15-year, $21 million project to upgrade the city’s entire electric distribution system from 5,000 volts to 15,000 volts in an effort to meet expanding load requirements and reduce system losses.

1990 Renovations to the CELD office building were completed in 1990, greatly improving efficiency and convenience for both employees and customers. Energy efficiency was highlighted too, as programs were offered for residential, commercial/industrial and municipal customers.

1991 Approximately 50 percent of Chicopee’s residential customers received energy-efficient light bulbs with the completion of the EnergyEdge program in 1991, while many received free home energy audits through the ongoing EnergyEdge Plus program. To benefit the environment, the Tree Power program gave a free shade tree to a customer for each utility pole set or replaced, resulting in hundreds of new trees planted throughout the city.

In 1993, the American Public Power Association honored CELD with its Innovation Award for the novel Hi-Light program. Under the program, the department paid 100 percent of the cost to install energy-efficient lighting for commercial and industrial customers, who then agreed to pay back 50 percent of the total cost on a monthly payment program. The program was developed to save money and energy for customers while reducing power costs for the utility by holding down the need to buy expensive peak-time power. By the time the program was completed in 1995, the program was expected to save customers more than $500,000 annually through reduced utility bills, while saving CELD nearly $500,000 in avoided power costs over the next decade.

In the municipal sector, the department in 1991 developed a five-year conservation plan with the School Department. The next year, a cooperative project resulted in the installation of a sophisticated energy management system at the School Department. The project was projected to save some $350,000 per year in avoided energy production costs.

In the area of power supply, costs were up due to the unexpected shutdown of the Millstone Unit No. 3 power plant, but the department was able to negotiate in 1991 a transmission access agreement with Northeast Utilities that afforded us greater access and flexibility in purchasing power from different sources. In 1992, CELD signed a 20-year agreement to buy energy from the electric generating facility planned for construction off Burnett Road by Browning-Ferris Industries (BFI).

The BFI plant, which went on-line in 1993, collects landfill methane gas and uses it to generate over 2.4 megawatts of electricity. The department expects to receive significant savings from this plant over other types of available generation sources while at the same time diversifying its fuel mix.

In 1993 Chicopee also signed a 10-year contract with Northeast Utilities for base and intermediate system power. This favorable agreement will allow CELD to efficiently meet power supply needs and help to maintain our rates among the lowest in the state.In order to assure high quality, reliable electric service, CELD has continued to work on a city-wide distribution system upgrade, converting the system to a higher, more efficient voltage level.

On January 1, 1995, CELD paid off the $24 million Millstone Unit No. 3 debt after a successful eight-year plan to make the utility debt-free. The early redemption of the Millstone bonds will save the department nearly $38 million over the remaining 25-year life of the bonds.

1996 After 100 years of service to the people of Chicopee, CELD can take pride in the accomplishments of our utility. Our system is modern and efficient, with ongoing upgrades designed to make sure it stays that way. Our employees are experienced and dedicated, and demonstrate daily enthusiasm for the essential service they provide.

We continue to offer the personalized customer service that is a municipal utility hallmark, treating each customer with care and respect. We’re proud of the variety and scope of the community work we perform to benefit our owners, the people of Chicopee. We at CELD have never lost our commitment to offer extremely competitive rates that are consistently among the very lowest in the state.

Today, just as CELD’s founders in 1896 could hardly imagine the wonders of our time, we find ourselves looking toward a new century filled with unknowns. The deregulation of the electric utility industry is on the near horizon, and brings with it many uncertainties. Yet the history of our utility is one of adaptation and change; a success story of challenges faced and met. We’re confident that with the continued support of the people of Chicopee, CELD will remain a valuable community asset well into the future.




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