Public Power Week – Celebrates Mason County’s Public Power Legacy

Public Power Week is being celebrated October 1 through 7 as part of an effort to educate customers on the value and history of electric utilities that are owned and operated by local communities throughout the nation.

78 years ago, supporters of Mason Public Utility District Number 3 emerged victorious from hard fought political and legal battles to claim the right to obtain cost-based and locally controlled services from their own utility.

Although the triumph was part of a larger groundswell in Washington State, the benefits for rural residents of the county resulted in a reliable source of affordable and clean energy.

In the early part of the 20th century, electricity – for those who could afford it – was a luxury. Folks who lived in rural areas of much of the country lived “off the grid” and experienced hard lives. You needed a strong back to chop wood for cooking and heating, hand wash clothes, pump water, or do just about anything else.

Enter the Washington State Grange. In 1929, the Grange collected more than 60,000 signatures – twice the number necessary – to send Initiative No. 1 to the Legislature, allowing rural communities to form publicly owned utilities.

When the Legislature failed to act, the measure went to a statewide election, where it passed in 1930 with 54 percent of the vote.

Supporters of Mason PUD 3 planted the seed for today’s electrical utility in 1934 by filing a petition with the Mason County Auditor for the formation of a countywide PUD. Despite strong opposition from private power interests, local voters approved the measure. PUD 3 had to take its case all the way to the Washington State Supreme Court, where in 1939 it won the right to begin local operations.

In May of 1939, Mason PUD 3 began providing electricity to eight customers. Over the years, PUD 3 has grown to where it now provides service to nearly 34,000 customers in most of Mason County and small portions of Kitsap, Grays Harbor, and Pierce Counties. The PUD has almost 1,800 miles of overhead and underground lines to serve its customers.

The PUD also provides wholesale telecommunications services in its service area through a wholesale fiber optic network. Just as PUD’s were instrumental in bringing much-needed electricity to rural residents and businesses, Mason PUD 3’s fiberhood program is a response to parts of the county that  are clamoring for fast, affordable, and reliable broadband service. In cooperation with retail service providers, PUD 3 established a measured process for fiber-ready neighborhoods to compete for extension of gigabit service. (More details at www.pud3.org/fiberhood.)

There are 28 public utility districts in Washington State, each governed by a locally elected board of Commissioners. The commissioners are responsible for establishing policy for utility operations, and have sole responsibility for setting rates for services provided to customers.

PUD 3 works hard to serve its customers with safe, reliable and cost-based service. Unlike power companies, which are responsible for making money for shareholders, public utilities provide service at cost. In fact, public power communities in Washington State have among the lowest electricity rates in the country.

The PUD has received consistent recognition of the excellence of its financial management, independent certification of the excellence of operational reliability, and its community outreach. Such recognition allows the PUD the opportunity to benchmark its performance against other, similar utilities. In testing its operations in this way, the PUD is pleased with the positive reflection on all its employees who strive every day to protect the investment the community has made in the utility for the last 78 years…and the many years to come.

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