- The glow of Main Street from the past...
The municipal electric utility was first conceived in the early 1930's when community leaders became dissatisfied with the electric service provided by Iowa Railway Power and Light Company and their 25-year franchise was running out. (Click on this link to read an entertaining version of the beginning of the electric utility as recorded by Lee Miller)
The general consensus of the community was that "we" could do better, so in 1934 by a majority vote of the people, they decided to build their own electric plant.
After the usual legal battles and several special elections, the electric utility went into operation in July 1937, under the guidance of the city council. The capacity of the original plant was 398 kilowatts which was funded through $114,000 of revenue bonds at an interest rate of 5%.
In 1938, by a vote of the citizens, a three member Board of Trustees was established and the control and ownership of the electric utility was transferred to the Board. Mayor Whitnell appointed the first three trustees – C.H. Whitten, Orton Kretzinger, and George Bower. The establishment of a separate Board of Trustees effectively insulated the management of the utilities from city politics and provided for continuity in the Board of Trustees. When the Board was established, it was also voted to transfer the control and ownership of the Water Utility to the Board of Trustees.
As time went on power demands increased rapidly , primarily due to the growth of the hybrid seed corn company, but also due to increased residential usage resulting in the addition of more generators – 500 kW in 1938, 690 kw in 1944, 725 kW in 1946 and 1250 kW in 1955.
During the 1960’s, outside factors altered the direction of the electric utility. In 1960 the electric utility installed a substation and transmission line tying into Corn Belt Power Cooperative’s transmission system, which for the first time gave Coon Rapids an outside source for emergency power. In 1962, Coon Rapids seized the opportunity to participate in hydro power dams located on the Missouri River, operated by the United States Corp of Engineers. On May 3, 1963 Coon Rapids put its local generating plant into emergency standby operation, as the Electric Utility received its first hydro power from the Bureau of Reclamation (presently called Western Area Power Administration “WAPA”) which today is one of the lowest cost resources in the electric utility’s energy portfolio.
After connecting to the grid in 1963, Coon Rapids realized that their loads were continuing to grow and that there were benefits to be realized by jointly working with other municipalities to secure an economical and reliable future source of energy for their consumers. On November 23, 1965 Coon Rapids joined thirteen other municipalities and under Chapter 28E of the Code of Iowa, the North Iowa Municipal Electric Cooperative Association “NIMECA” was incorporated.
On December 31, 1965, NIMECA applied for membership with Corn Belt Power Cooperative. This decision created a long lasting and valuable partnership that has provided NIMECA members with a reliable supplemental power supply and access to a well maintained and valuable transmission system. Throughout the remainder of the 60’s, NIMECA continued to address issues of purchasing energy from the joint dispatch pool and selling excess capacity through interconnection agreements and developing dispatch agreements with Corn Belt and Iowa Public Service (IPS) – now MidAmercian Energy Company.
In 1974 the decision to purchase 0.521% of the Neal 4 Generating Station (pictured to the right) in Sioux City, IA was made. This decision provided the electric utility with an additional 3,126 kW at a cost of $1.85 million when the plant came on-line in May, 1979. During the 70’s many improvements were made to the distribution system including a new substation and switchgear by the new city park and additional switchgear at the main substation.
In 1980 a new cooling tower was installed for the standby generators at a cost of $110,000. In 1987 an additional 1360 kw used generator was purchased to meet the growing demand. Throughout the 80’s and into the 90’s the electric utility utilized its own crews to methodically convert more of its old overhead distribution system to underground facilities for increased service reliability. The electric utility also steadily replaced over 300 outdated street light fixtures with new efficient high pressure sodium lights.
As the electric utility entered the 21st century, the decision was made to replace the old standby generation plant due to the steady decline in reliability and sharply rising maintenance costs stemming from the ageing units and difficultly in acquiring parts. Therefore, in 2001, the electric utility installed three 1825 kW caterpillar diesel engines and generators at a cost of approximately $2.4M to ensure that Coon Rapids will always have a reliable local generation plant capable of carrying the system load.
Today, the electric utility continues to make ongoing improvements to its distribution system while closely monitoring its individual feeders for any power quality issues that may arise. Through NIMECA, Coon Rapids along with the other members, continue to research and acquire a diversified energy portfolio to meet its future loads.