Cheyenne Light: A Proud History
As electricity and gas supplier to Wyoming’s capitol, Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power has a proud history of more than a century of service. In January 2005, Cheyenne Light was officially acquired by Black Hills Corporation, an energy company headquartered in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Throughout the ownership changes from Public Service of Colorado, New Century Energies, Xcel Energy and most recently Black Hills Corporation, the employees of Cheyenne Light have maintained continuity and commitment to providing customers reliable, dependable gas and electric service. The following history of the company from its beginnings over a century ago is reprinted from Wyoming, a 20th Century History of its Citizens, Businesses & Institutions by Victoria Murphy; 1999, Heritage Media Corporation
Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power Company’s tradition of service and reliability goes back to the days of Thomas Alva Edison and the birthplace of the incandescent lamp. It was in Wyoming where Edison, whose many inventions led to the creation of modern electricity, first came up with the idea for his “light in a bottle.” He was in Wyoming with a party of other scientists who had traveled across the rugged mountains and plains to see an eclipse. After returning home to his laboratory, Edison perfected the forerunner of today’s incandescent electric lamp.
Cheyenne’s venture into public utilities began with the Brush Arc Lamp and its battery current. It was America’s centennial year – 1876 – and a Centennial Exposition held in Philadelphia opened the door to progress in the field of electricity. As the electric era began, lighting for homes and streets came from burning coal or gas. But at the Centennial Exposition, people began murmuring about not only what had been but what was to be. A small, curious, man-made machine called the electric dynamo was able to supply a current to a single arc lamp. Although the unobtrusive electric dynamo was quickly forgotten amid the dazzle of other modern machinery at the exposition, the principle of electricity, harnessed for service, had been established in inventive minds.
That same year, a young man by the name of Charles Francis Brush began producing an electric dynamo that created illumination through arc lamps. A graduate of the University of Michigan, he was familiar with both the principles of electricity and the dynamo. Confident of his ability to improve upon its design, he remarked as such to George W. Stockly of the Cleveland Telegraph Supply Company. Stockly, intrigued at the idea, offered Brush the telegraph company’s facilities for its manufacture should the dynamo prove to be successful.
During the summer of 1883, Charles Brush and the Brush Electric Company became interested in obtaining the American rights of an incandescent lamp invented by Englishman Joseph W. Swan. Brush visualized an illuminating system that included both arc and incandescent lighting. He experimented with a storage battery of cast-lead plates and found that one horsepower would charge the battery sufficiently to operate 10 Swan lamps for an hour. Brush connected a number of these batteries to an arc light system, operated by a dynamo of large capacity. During the day he charged the batteries and at night he operated incandescent lamps from them. The lamps did not interfere with the arc light system as the batteries were equipped with an automatic “manipulator,” which cut them into the circuit when they were to be recharged or cut them out as charging was completed.
The story of electric lighting in Cheyenne, Wyoming, began right around this time. Certification of the incorporation of the Brush-Swan Electric Light Company of Cheyenne was filed in what was then the Territory of Wyoming on August 2, 1882. Its mission was “to construct, establish, furnish and maintain a system of electric lighting in Laramie County, Wyoming Territory, and in the City of Cheyenne; provide electric lights for the City and County and inhabitants ther[e]of, and electric power for all purposes to which it may [be] applied or for which it may be used in said Laramie County, Wyoming Territory.”
Electric lighting progress continued in Wyoming. One of the first commercial lighting plants in the West – certainly the first in Wyoming – was started by then-treasurer of Wyoming Territory, Francis E. Warren. Made up first of Brush-Swan lamps, machines and storage batteries, the Electric Light Company of Cheyenne delivered batteries to customers by wagon. The small company was frequently unable to meet the demand for electricity by residents who wanted to have their homes illuminated.
The story of electric lighting in the city of Cheyenne continued with a resolution in December 1883 that granted permission to the Brush-Swan Electric Light Company to erect poles and wires throughout the city’s streets and alleys. The following year, in February, the company erected “arc lights” at the intersections of several streets in Cheyenne. The lights were to be kept burning from dark until dawn each day.
In late 1883, Cheyenne City Gas Company was incorporated “for the manufacture and sale of gas for illuminating, heating and other purposes by any and all processes…to supply gas to individuals, public or private corporations…” The absence of records to the contrary indicates that both gas and electric were delivered to Cheyenne residents on a satisfactory basis through the turn of the century. It was at that time that a corporation named Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power Company was organized on April 19, 1900.
At the first meeting of the trustees of Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power Company, held May 21, 1900, officers of the Cheyenne City Gas Company and the Brush-Swan Electric Light Company offered to sell to the new company all rights connected to the sale of light, heat and power. The offer was accepted and Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power began providing services to residents throughout Cheyenne and Laramie County in what had become the state of Wyoming.
By 1918, improvements made by Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power resulted in raising power efficiency by reducing coal consumption and eliminating gas and smoke irritation in the boiler room. Other additions included the installation of a higher pressure boiler over a modern chain grate stoker. Further expansion resulted in a highly efficient bench being added to increase the capacity and decrease the cost of gas generation.
Because of ever-increasing population growth in the city of Cheyenne, some other old engines were removed from the plant and improvements were made to the building where they had been located. Keeping buildings and equipment up-to-date technologically so that service is held to a high level has been a top priority of Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power throughout the last several decades.
Circumstances in the early 1920s also led to the merger of Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power with the Public Service Company of Colorado. Other changes included natural gas being piped into Cheyenne on July 7, 1926, from the Wellington Gas Field by the Colorado-Wyoming Gas Company. This event opened up a whole new era in gas service. In 1929, the Colorado-Wyoming Gas Company’s pipeline was tied into the line of the Colorado Interstate Gas Company. This line was expanded into Cheyenne, which made natural gas from a field in Amarillo, Texas, available to Wyoming residents.
On July 28, 1938, Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power began to purchase power from the Seminoe Dam, which had contracted with the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation, Kendrick Project, Wyoming, a generating plant that would also be used for standby purposes.
Negotiations began in early 1941 for the construction of a new building to be used as headquarters for the company’s offices. The continued growth of the city of Cheyenne made it necessary to expand services, thus making additions of gas mains and electric lines imperative to keeping up with demand. On January 31, 1942, Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power moved into its current headquarters on 18th Street in downtown Cheyenne. The occasion was marked by a formal opening that was attended by more than 4,000 people.
Improvements have continued to be made throughout the 1960s and beyond. In 1962, an ultra-modern service center was opened and the company dedicated the first two of its six diesel-generation units. The following year, Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power began to purchase electricity from Pacific Power and Light Company.
Statistics over the past century show that Cheyenne has emerged as one of the West’s most progressive utility centers. Indeed, Cheyenne was perhaps the first city in the United States to have electric lights and it was certainly the place where many new lighting techniques were born. The company’s service territory has expanded over the last hundred years to include the entire city of Cheyenne and a major portion of Laramie County, including the communities of Pine Bluff, Burns and Carpenter. This expansive area combines to make up more than 1,200 square miles.
The latter years of the 20th century have continued to see improvements and extensions of existing facilities as well as the construction of new structures. Although the 1980s began with a shaky economy throughout the West, Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power remained strong. Its employees even achieved national recognition for working a million productive hours – more than five years – without a disabling injury.
By 1989, the state’s economy and that of Cheyenne had stabilized. Undergrounding and relocation, as well as drainage and street improvements, initiated by both the city of Cheyenne and the state of Wyoming, occurred in areas throughout the service territory. A strong economy fueled the addition of new residential and commercial construction. A large intermediate pressure line extension was begun in 1993 to tie the Union Pacific Resource’s Silo Gathering field with Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power’s facilities in the Cheyenne Business Parkway. In 1998, the company initiated a new Service Guarantee Program. The program was designed to improve customer relations when the company fails to keep its commitment in providing certain expected levels of service. The program enables employees, through the issuance of a Service Guarantee Certificate with a monetary value, to recover good faith with the customer if a specific service level failure occurs.
The 1990s reflected continued growth and change as the company became a partner with New Century Energies, Inc. This was a significant milestone for the utility because, as part of a major corporation, flexibility and expertise in daily operations could be improved, ultimately benefiting customers in the form of lower utility costs.
The company comprises an extensive system of electric transmission and distribution equipment and a far-reaching network of natural gas distribution facilities. The continued arrival of new businesses and industries to Cheyenne and Laramie County, and the continued construction of office buildings, shopping centers, hotels, restaurants and homes assure a promising economic future. These changes certainly present challenges for the utility industry, but the past has shown that seemingly insurmountable difficulties can be triumphed over again and again.
The scope of Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power’s operations is certainly much broader today than in those early days. Utilities today must operate in a constant state of transition. Economic concerns, government regulations, improving technology and growing needs of customers make the utility business anything but static. The company’s commitment to serving a growing area of customers, however, remains steadfast.
Its commitment to the public is strong and deep as well. Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power prides itself on taking a proactive approach when it comes to community involvement. It is actively involved with a number of local causes and provides support (both financial and volunteer) to numerous organizations.
The future of Cheyenne, Wyoming, is full of promise. There is an exciting potential for growth and Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power looks forward to fulfilling the need for energy sufficiently and reliably. With the new century came changes in technology and new challenges. The strength of a utility depends on its ability to remain economically strong, which means keeping prices competitive and service stable. One fact will remain: residents who have come to depend on the reliability of their power company will continue to do so. Their homes will remain warm and well lit.
The new millennium of utility service will emerge as one far different from any past era. Cheyenne has its own place in the history of electricity: Cheyenne Light, Fuel & Power has a place in the future.