History of Electricity in Spencer

Spencer Electricity

In 1881, a group of Spencer businessmen and investors organized a stock company to build and operate an electric light and power plant. A brick power house was constructed near the present location of SMU, poles were set, and lines were laid. By late 1881, the people of Spencer were enjoying electric light for the first time.

Maintaining an electric system in those early days was an expensive task, and by 1897, the electric company was facing financial difficulties. At a sheriffs sale, the property of the electric company was sold to First National Bank for $10,000.

In 1901, the City of Spencer purchased the electric utility from the bank at a price of just under $17,000. The electric utility, along with the water utility, were operated by the city under the direction of the City Council until 1942.

As the demand for electricity grew, so did the electric utility. A new steam engine and electric generator was put into service in 1914. The 44 ton machine known as the “Sleeping Giant” remained in operation until the late 1930’s when it was replaced by a more efficient steam turbine. The old engine is now on exhibit at the Shield International Museum in Waverly, Iowa.

In November of 1942, the citizens of Spencer voted to place the management and control of the city’s electric and water utilities in the hands of a Board of Trustees. Thus a new entity-Spencer Municipal Utilities-was born.

In 1960, a new office building was constructed adjacent to the power plant.

Through the 1940’s and 1950’s, SMU added new steam turbine generators to meet the city’s growing electric load. In the mid-1960’s, SMU began receiving power from hydroelectric dams on the Missouri River in South Dakota. Initially, the hydroelectric power was more expensive than the power generated by SMU’s own facilities. But as time went on, it became more expensive to maintain small generating plants such as SMU’s, making the purchased hydro power cheaper by comparison.

In 1969, SMU installed a jet turbine generator at a cost of about $2 million. The jet provides the system with extra generation during peak demand, and serves as a backup power source for SMU customers. With the commissioning of the new Jet turbine for backup power and the decommissioning of SMU’s coal fired power plant in the early 1970’s, SMU no longer generates its own power but now purchases it through a variety of sources including hydro and coal generation plants.

As SMU’s share of federal hydroelectric power diminished, it became clear that new sources of power were needed. In 1974, SMU’s Board of Trustees signed an agreement with 12 other utilities to build a large coal generating power plant south of Sioux City. The Neal 4 generating plant was completed in 1979. SMU owns 1.215 percent of the plant, or 7,290 kilowatts.

As the community of Spencer grew during the 1970’s, it was not only necessary to obtain future power supply sources, but also to improve the electric distribution system. A long range plan was established to upgrade distribution lines and equipment. SMU also began to “go underground” with distribution lines. Over the next two decades, SMU has spent several million dollars in this effort to ensure a reliable electric system.

As Spencer’s power demands continued to increase in the 1990’s, and as SMU’s allotment of hydroelectric power from the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA) decreased, the need for additional energy sources became evident. In 2002, SMU entered into a partial ownership agreement in a new coal-fired generation station-Council Bluffs 4-that will go on-line later this decade.

SMU also continued growing its sources of “green” energy by obtaining wind energy from the Hancock County Wind Farm. With 2% of Spencer’s energy coming from the wind, and another 50% from non-polluting hydroelectric stations, Spencer is a Green City. In 2008, SMU started converting to AMR electric metering and completed this conversion in 2010.

As of 2014, SMU currently owns, operates and maintains 15 miles of 69,000kv overhead transmission lines connected to 6 substations with a loop system. SMU is 93% underground.