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85 Years of History: The Grange Starts It All for PUDs
85 Years Ago
Birth of Public Utility Districts
The history of PUDs dates back to 1930 when the voters of the State of Washington passed an initiative allowing for the formation of not-for-profit, community owned public utility districts. While 1930 marks the beginning of the PUD era, the PUD movement began earlier sparked by frustration over access to affordable electricity in rural areas. One organization took action leading the PUD movement; the Washington State Grange.
The PUD movement got its start in the late 1920s. At the time, most rural Washington communities lacked reliable and affordable electric power. Only about 12 percent of farms had electricity. Private utilities were slow to provide service in the rural areas and in areas where there electric power was available rates were high. Frustration led to action and the Washington State Grange began working on a solution.
At the 1927 Grange Convention, a report was adopted to draft an initiative for a PUD law that would allow rural communities to form their own publically owned utilities. In 1928, the Grange considered either going the initiative route or submitting it as a bill in the legislature. The Grange delegates voted to launch the initiative effort due to concerns about private power influence in the legislature. Petitions were circulated in October of 1928. Over 60,000 signatures were gathered before the legislative session and Initiative 1 to the legislature was filed in the 1929 session. The initiative failed to make it through the legislature and went on to a statewide vote in the General Election in 1930. The initiative passed with a vote of 152,487 to 130,901 (54% of the vote) and the new PUD law went into effect in 1931.
The law, now known as RCW 54, authorized the establishment of public utility districts to “conserve the water and power resources of the State of Washington for the benefit of the people thereof, and to supply public utility service, including water and electricity for all uses.”
In 2000, as access to the Internet became increasingly important, the law was amended to include wholesale broadband telecommunications service.
The first PUD to go into operation was PUD No. 1 of Mason County. Formed in 1934, the PUD began serving Hoodsport and the surrounding area in 1935.
A second PUD – Mason PUD No. 3 – was formed soon afterwards and now provides electricity to other parts of the county. Mason No. 1 also provides water and sewer services, while Mason No. 3 provides broadband telecommunications. Mason is the only county with two operating PUDs.
In 1934, voters in Benton and Franklin counties approved the first countywide PUDs. However, in 1940 the Skamania County PUD, which received voter approval in 1939, was the first countywide PUD to actually begin operations.
Early efforts to organize public utility districts often faced fierce opposition from privately owned utility companies. But after the state Supreme Court upheld the PUD law in 1936, the Washington State Grange organized an all-out effort to get PUDs on ballots across the state.
Although not all of them were immediately put into operation, the voters created PUDs in nearly two dozen counties over the next eight years, including: • Douglas (1935) • Chelan (1936) • Cowlitz (1936) • Ferry (1936) • Kittitas (1936) • Lewis (1936) • Okanogan (1936) • Pend Oreille (1936) • Skagit (1936) • Snohomish (1936) • Stevens (1936) • Wahkiakum (1936) • Whatcom County (1936) • Pacific (1937) • Clark (1938) • Grant (1938) • Grays Harbor (1938) • Klickitat (1938) • Thurston (1938) • Jefferson (1939) • Skamania (1939) • Kitsap (1940) • Clallam (1940)
The newest PUD is the Asotin County PUD.
Asotin PUD was created in 1984 by voters who were upset with the high cost of water provided by a private utility. After two years of court proceedings, the PUD acquired the Clarkston General Water Supply Co. through condemnation and began operations in April 1987.
This article was originally printed in the 2015 1st Edition of HotLine