Winterset Electric Utility is Iowa’s oldest publicly owned electric utility!
The City Council of Winterset Iowa first considered establishing a Municipal Light Plant on April 6, 1889, a little more than nine years after Thomas Edison was granted a patent on the first electric lamp.
In May of 1889 the council adopted a resolution providing for a special election to establish a Municipal Light Plant. In that election 377 votes were cast with 252 in support of establishment of the Light Plant and 125 were cast against.
In June 1889, Hawkeye Electric Manufacturing Company was contracted with, to construct the light plant with a low bid of $11,700. The council issued a total of $17,000 in bonds to cover the cost of the lot, the building and the generation equipment. The original plant was located at 121 E. Court and moved to its present location in August of 1921.
The Winterset Municipal Light Plant began service on October 1, 1889 as a coal fired steam generation facility with a capacity of 250 kW and 230 customers. In January of 1890, George W. Cox was appointed the first manager at a salary of $70 per month. John D. Couch and J.A. Watkins were the first operators and were paid $35 to $40 per month.
Residential rates were fifty cents a month for one or two lamps, commercial rates were eighty cents per month for one lamp and $1.50 a month for two, churches were charged two cents per lamp per night and lodges were charged three cents per night per lamp. Customers were on the honor system until meters were introduced in 1900.
The city provided the first lamps at a cost of $6 each and the average life for these 16 candlepower lamps were 600 hours. Lights went on at 5:00 am until full daylight and again at dusk until 1:00 am.
In 1930 the plant was converted from steam to diesel power when the utility purchased a McIntosh & Seymour 5-cylinder engine (430 kW). A Worthington 6-cylinder engine (500 kW) was added in 1931 and an additional Worthington (300 kW) was added in 1938. In 1946 an American Locomotive (750 kW) 8 cylinder engine was installed. The “Alco” was removed from service in 1999. In 1956 a 12-cylinder Nordberg radial engine (1500 kW) was put into service. The first dual-fuel (diesel & natural gas) unit, a Cooper LS8 8-cylinder (1750 kW) was installed in 1965 with a second unit, a Cooper LSV-16 16-cylinder (4480 kW) following in 1970. The Nordberg and both Cooper engines are still in use today and three, diesel fueled, 1825 kW Cat engines went into service in January of 2002.
In 1968 the system was converted from 2400 to 4160 volts and is currently being converted to 13800 volts. A large portion of the distribution system is being installed now underground.
From 1889 to 1956 the Utility ran independent from any other utility. In 1956 a 300 kW tie was made to the REA for emergency use. In 1959 a 1500 kW tie was made to Southwest Federated of Creston and upgraded to 3000 kW in 1969 and further upgraded to 10,000 kW in 1977. Currently Winterset has a 69,000 kV tie to both CIPCO and Mid-American.
Winterset is currently a member of SIMECA and purchases wholesale power with a group of 11 municipalities from CIPCO.
Being a public power community gives local citizens and businesses an active voice in policies affecting rates, service and operations. Consumer-owned utilities belong to the people they serve and their purpose is to provide an essential service at the lowest possible cost. The owners and users are the one and the same, making a huge difference in the rates and service, with all the benefits remaining in the community.
A three-member Board of Trustees appointed by the Mayor governs the Winterset Municipal Utilities Electric and Water Departments. The General Manager oversees both departments. The Electric Department is supervised by the Electric Superintendent and has 5 lineman/plant operators. A meter reader and two clerks round out the remaining electric department employees and are shared by the utility’s water department.