History of Streetlights & Municipal Power in Columbus

Line Crew1844  Columbus gets its first streetlights, which are gas powered.

1880  First workable lighting system is unveiled at the Ohio State Journal newspaper offices. Several private electric companies are established including Columbus Electric Light, Columbus Edison Electric Light, and Columbus Electric Light and Power, some of which are used to light streets.

1896  Costs to light the streets exceeds $70k per year. Following a feasibility study for Columbus to run their own streetlight system, voters approve a bond sale to build a new city-owned light plant, which would make control of lighting the streets in the growing capital possible. A lack of agreement on city council delayed things for a few years; however, successful mayoral candidate Samuel Black promises voters that the plant will be completed.

1899  Columbus' power plant goes on line with a 264 horsepower engine; however, arc lamp capacity was limited so many lights remained on private service for a few more years.arches

1909  City power takes over the lighting of the decorative arches (photo) on High Street, making Columbus known as the City of Arches. These arches would go away years later, only to be returned in the area to eventually become known as The Short North.

1910  The Division of Electricity began making power available to public buildings and commercial businesses in the downtown area. City Hall and the water works were among the first, followed by Grant Hospital, the library, drugstores, hardware stores and churches.

1920s Several upgrades were made to the Dublin Avenue power plant to keep up with demand and improve efficiency.

1933   Despite an economic depression, the city's electric division is financially healthy enough to operate the streetlighting system without taxpayer subsidies. By 1935, the city has  6,268 electric customers.

1945 The division embarked upon an ambitious $1.1 million upgrade with a new boiler and a 12,500 kilowatt turbine generator, following voter passage of a bond issue.

1950s City electric is operating at a deficit and many equipment upgrades are needed.

1962  Revenues are back in the black through a maintenance and improvement initiatives at the plant.

1969 A contract is awarded to Columbus & Southern for supplemental power, following contentious negotiations that included the company trying to take over the utility.

1970s The division has 135 employees and endures a time of high inflation that included electricity and gas prices across the country. The turmoil during this period included city employees going on strike, which forced supervisors to run the power plant. Major outages and costs are a problem. The city decides to construct a waste-to-energy plant on the south side, amid petition drives and two city referendums. In 1977, a bond package to construct what would become known as the city's trash burning power plant passes, following a defeat in 1976. Both Columbus newspapers endorse its passage.

Cobra1982  AMP Ohio's efforts results in a $132,000 purchase power cost savings for Columbus. With those savings and the power plant running at full capacity, the division is able to undertake an ambitious streetlighting program. Through 1987, 13,310 new energy-efficient streetlights were installed, two-thirds of those in Columbus neighborhoods.

1985  After leaving City Hall due to space constraints and being scattered about in temporary quarters for eight years, the division moved to the city's new Utilities Complex on Dublin Road.

1993-94  City leases the trash burning power plant to the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio. However, shortly thereafter it has to be shut down due to new environmental mandates making the plant no longer economically feasible.

1999  Division of Electricity moves from Dublin Road to 3500 Indianola Avenue.

2006  The Division of Electricity and the Division of Water are merged into one division, named the Division of Power and Water. Power customers are around 14,000 and the section has about 130 employees.

2010  Employee count is reduced to around 80 through attrition to hold down costs following a period when purchase power costs have been on the rise and an economic recession makes it necessary to try to hold down rates. Many capital projects are on hold due to a lack of availableRiverfront430 funding, while additional cost savings ideas are explored.

The Division's mission statement sums up the philosophy of a century of service: "The Columbus Department of Public Utilities, Division of Power and Water provides reliable streetlighting for people living in or traveling through the city, with the total cost of this system supported by the sale of electricity."