More than a century of public-owned power in Westfield
The Westfield Gas & Electric Light Department was officially formed on June 1, 1899, and George Pettibone, the former chief engineer of Westfield Gas Light, was appointed as General Manager. Throughout the early years, the WG&E went through many trials and tribulations. When the Department was first formed, electric power had not been available to the residents of Westfield. As the demand for power increased, so did the need to expand and upgrade equipment. This proved especially challenging, as the Department went from solely providing electricity for street lights to also providing electricity to residences in Westfield.
Although businesses and residents pushed to have electric power available to them, they soon began to complain about the cost and fretted about the current. When many of the manufacturing businesses in town decided to continue to use their existing water motors rather than making the costly switch to electric motors, the electric department floundered and operated at a loss. To help businesses embrace the idea of electric motors, the water commissioner ordered all water motors disconnected from the town system by September 1, 1905, and losses were mitigated.
The power of economic development
In 1910, an Elm Street and Park Square improvement project was approved and provided the opportunity to bring overhead wires underground. Unsightly utility poles were removed and ornamental street lights were left in their place. In March of 1912, the first Municipal Light Board was elected, and soon after Thomas T. Logie was hired as the new General Manger. Logie immediately set to work to improve the town’s gas plant and its defective equipment. In the electric plant, meters were reworked to better track the plant’s operation. But the biggest change made by Logie and the MLB was lowering the electric and gas rates below cost to encourage new business. By the end of 1913, Westfield saw a 19% increase in business.
In the 1920’s, both the gas and electric sides of Department were showing both profit and growth. But this was not the beginning of a decade of unfettered growth. With the end of World War I, Westfield’s bustling industry had slowed, and many of its factories closed down. Although industry slowed, the WG&E continued to prosper. In the five years from 1921 to 1926, gas sales increased by fifty percent, and the amount of electricity consumed increased by over one hundred percent. The department made fifty percent more in those five years than in all the prior years combined.
By the late 1940’s and early 1950’s, electric demand was on the rise. Circuits for new housing and lights for the Police Department’s new indoor shooting range were among these demands. Extensive repairs were made to the gas plant in the mid-to-late '40's, and included a new water gas set which doubled the plant’s capacity. Talk of natural gas began in 1949, and with the formation of the Northeast Gas Transmission Company, the first natural gas pipeline came to New England.