Pasadena Water and Power (PWP), originally called the Pasadena Municipal Light and Power Department, was initiated by City Ordinance in 1906. The City had been purchasing power from the Southern California Edison Company at the rate of 12.5 cents per KWH for street lighting purposes, but City Commissioners believed that the City could build a plant and generate the electricity for the streets at a savings. On May 3, 1906, the citizens passed a $125,000 bond issue to pay for the construction of a power plant. The first power facility, a wood frame and corrugated sheet iron building, housed one 200-kW Crocker-Wheeler generator driven by a Fleming-Corliss engine, one 200-pound pressure boiler, a condenser, pumps, and other auxiliary equipment. The generator had an exciter which was belt-driven off the engine flywheel. Since the original installation was for furnishing power for street lighting purposes only, the plant was closed down during the daylight hours, allowing plenty of time for maintenance. In 1908, less than two years later, the plant was enlarged by the addition of a second generating unit of 240 KW capacity. With this addition, the plant had sufficient capacity and reliability to take on a few commercial customers, and in October of 1908, Pasadena established its first commercial service. Power was first sold at the competitive rate of eight cents per KWH, and for a number of years thereafter Pasadena was involved in a rate war with the private utility. The municipal utility survived in the early days largely because of the street lighting revenue, but after a bond issue in 1909 for further expansion, the utility was able to grow from sales revenues. The third addition to the plant was an 833-kW engine-driven generator and boiler. Electrical energy, originally generated and distributed at 2300 volts and a frequency of 60 hertz, was converted to 50 hertz to conform to the rest of Southern California. Practically the entire load was single-phase lighting, including street lighting operating on series circuits.
PWP is celebrating a century of reliable, high quality water service to the citizens of Pasadena and nearby communities. Please visit our Water Centennial page for a history of the Water System.
By 1915, the Department had added two steam turbine generators to the power plant--a 1100-kW Westinghouse unit and a 3000-kW Allis-Chalmers unit. The plant facility was enlarged to house the new generators and boilers and a new cooling tower was built. By 1917, World War I had forced the price of fuel oil to rise to such an extent that Pasadena found it profitable to buy surplus hydroelectric power from the City of Los Angeles. Two 34 KV lines were brought into Pasadena from the Los Angeles Garvanza Substation. The voltage was stepped down to 2300 volts through a 3000-KVA bank of transformers, which were housed in a shed on the west side of the building. In 1920, Pasadena purchased a part of the Edison system within the City boundaries, causing the peak load to jump to more than 5000 KW. With the purchase of the Edison Company facilities, the City acquired its first substation, including warehouse and shop properties. When Pasadena took over that portion of the Edison Company within the City, it also contracted to purchase power wholesale from the Edison Company. Transformers were set up in the backyard of the steam plant, and for a short time the City was receiving power from both Los Angeles and the Edison Company. In 1923, construction was started on the first unit of 10,000 KW capacity for a new power plant. Construction was accelerated when a power shortage, caused by a rapid increase in demand, pushed the City into a position of having insufficient power. As a stopgap measure, the old generators were put into operation and the new plant was rushed to completion. By May of 1924, the new unit was delivering its full capacity to the Edison Company and continued to do so until November of that year. The period of 1924 to 1930 was one of rapid expansion for the Department. Use of electricity was increasing, the population was growing, and the Department was taking over the load of the Edison Company as new territories were annexed to the City. A 15-kW transmission system was established and a new substation was built on Raymond Avenue above Washington Boulevard. After Lamanda Park was annexed to the City, Pasadena acquired the old Santa Anita Substation and some transmission facilities feeding this station from the Edison Company. Later, the new Santa Anita Substation was built on Altadena Drive. The Engineering Office outgrew its quarters in the City Hall, and office space was taken in the Central Building on Raymond Avenue. By 1927, a second unit was added to the new power Plant. Further expansion continued and in 1928, Pasadena’s present City Hall on Garfield Avenue opened, providing adequate space for new Light Department offices. Pasadena contracted with the Federal government to take power from Hoover Dam and with the Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light to wheel the power to Pasadena over its transmission lines. A new 25,000 KW unit authorized before the end of the building boom in 1930 was put into operation in 1932. During the depression years, Light Department money went into make-work projects for the unemployed, and miles of underground conduit were laid in ditches dug by hand labor. In 1933, new central yards were established on Glen Avenue and modern warehouses and shops were built. The 34 KW lines from Los Angeles were rebuilt so that power could be brought in from Hoover dam. New tap-changing transformers were installed in the switch yard, giving Pasadena a 25,000 KVA tie with the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Power and Light. From that time to 1971, the Pasadena system was operated continuously in parallel with the Los Angeles system. In 1935 and 1936, two new substations were built. The new Santa Anita Substation replaced the original station and the Maryland Substation was constructed to take care of the rapidly expanding load in the downtown business sector. Until the beginning of the Second World War, surplus power was available from Hoover Dam, so the Pasadena Steam Plant was operated on a stand-by basis. The original steam plant with its reciprocating engines was phased out and some of the old boilers were removed and relocated. During the war years, Pasadena had ample power capacity to supply the few war industries located in the City. However, with the postwar population boom and great industrial growth, the generating and distribution capacity of the system was soon overextended. A new 45,000 KW unit (No. 9) was ordered soon after the war was over, but because of delivery delays it was 1950 before the additional generating capacity was available to meet the system load. While planning for the No. 9 unit, the Department realized that long-range planning would be required to provide for future growth. To accommodate more generating units and more circuits, a new switchrack had to be built. A dispatching center was needed and a new Glenarm Substation was planned to replace the obsolete equipment in the old substation. In 1950, two new outdoor substations were put into service, one on the site of the old Wilson Reservoir and the other at the new Hastings Reservoir. Additional lines and cables were run to the substations and the system was changed from a loop system to a radial system. The distribution circuits were changed from a 3-wire delta system to a 4-wire wye with a resulting increase in load capacity of the circuits. Three more outdoor substations, a 34-kW switchrack, and a 34-KV transmission system were put into service. Two new 50,000 KW generating units in an entirely new outdoor plant went on-line in 1955 and 1958, giving the system sufficient generation capacity for the first time since the war. On June 19, 1965, a 71 MW, 83 MVA reheat unit with steam backup auxiliaries was put into service to cover the growing needs for more electricity in the City. On July 1, 1967, the Light and Power Department merged with the Water Department, forming a single Water and Power Department. On January 18, 1971, the T.M. Goodrich Receiving Station was placed into service with delivery of surplus power from the Bonneville Power Administration beginning the following day. This station provides an interconnection between the Pasadena system and the Southern California Edison system with a present capacity of 200 MVA. It serves as the Pasadena terminus for northwest power which flows from the Bonneville Power Administration system in Oregon to the D.C. terminal in Sylmar, California and then over the Edison system to Pasadena. All power originating outside of the Pasadena system is delivered to the station. Installation of two 26 MW combustion turbine generators was completed in 1975 and marked the final addition to local power generation. All subsequent construction at the local plant has been to increase plant efficiency, lower plant operating costs, extend plant equipment life cycle, and comply with state and federal environmental regulations. Noteworthy contributions to the quality of life for the citizens of Pasadena include: $125,000 toward the development of Brookside Golf Course; $210,000 in 1927 to help build the City Hall and Public Library; $600,000 financing of the Civic Auditorium and to help build the library branch at La Pintoresca Park. During the Depression the city utility expanded its building programs to provide jobs for residents hard-hit by the economic collapse. Unemployed customers were allowed to work for the utility for two week periods to earn money for utility bills, food and housing. Over the years, PWP has tackled many issues and accomplished it goals for the citizens of Pasadena. Today, PWP provides electricity to some 57,000 customers within Pasadena. We also deliver water to 37,000 households and businesses in Pasadena and adjacent communities in the San Gabriel Valley.