Electric Department History


The first electric service, known as a dynamo, provided power to the Pioneer Pulp Mill. This service was located in the approximate area of the former East Side swimming pool near the intersection of 1st Street North and Franklin Street.


The Mack and Spencer Pulp Mill, located on the west side of the Wisconsin River, is granted a franchise for an electric light plant designed for use as a public utility. The plant operated with mixed success for about 5 years.


In an effort to improve electric service reliability, the Electric and Water Company is formed and purchases the assets of the Mack and Spencer utility for $3,000. Representatives of the newly formed company travel to Chicago to purchase the parts necessary for a steam electric plant which is installed on the west side of the river.


The Electric and Water Company is reorganized as the Grand Rapids Electric Company. The company issues $24,000 of bonds to finance a rebuild of its electric lines.


Sentiment among the public favoring municipal ownership of the utility prompted the city to vote in favor of taking over the Grand Rapids Electric Company. The city enters into negotiations with the company on a selling price.


A sales price is determined by appraisers appointed by the State Railroad Commission and on January 2nd, 1915 the city issues $96,000 of bonds to fund the purchase of the Grand Rapids Electric Company. The era of municipal control of the electric and water utility in Wisconsin Rapids has officially begun.


A substation is constructed just south of the present day intersection of 1st, Baker, and Market Streets. Utility statistics at the time reveal:

  • 1,989 electric customers
  • 1,726,789 Kw-hours of electricity used


Electric demand on the distribution system continues to expand through the 1920’s. Electric department data now show:

  • 2,956 electric customers
  • 2,667,368 Kw-hours of electricity used
  • 148 transformers
  • $97,515.61 of electric revenue


A two story building is constructed at 3rd Avenue North and McKinley Street in order to house the new substation and switching equipment needed to meet the increasing electric demand on the city’s west side. Later, this building would be renovated to house the utility office.

A new labor agreement with IBEW Local #1147 is signed granting utility employees a 5% raise.


Demand for electricity continues to increase dramatically as World War II dawned. Substation equipment was purchased and installed at a new substation that was built at Market and Avon Streets to help meet the load on the city’s east side.


With the post-war economic boom underway, it became clear that it would no longer be feasible to serve the utility’s entire distribution system from its existing 2,400 volt, two substation infrastructure. After a thorough planning process, construction was begun on a 13,200 volt circuit that would encircle the city. Nine new substations are added at various points system wide to receive power from the new 13,200 volt circuit and reduce it to supply the existing 2,400 volt distribution grid.


The utility embarks on a major renovation of its street lighting system by installing 32 new mercury vapor street lights on Grand Avenue from the bridge westward to 8th Avenue. When completed, 254 of these lights will have been installed on major streets in the area and make Wisconsin Rapids one of the best lit cities in Wisconsin.


Electric demand reaches the capacity of the 3rd and High Street substation. An alternate source of supply is obtained from the Petenwell transmission line and a new high voltage substation is built at 18th and Peach Streets to deliver the electricity to the system. Operationally, this substation feeds the electric load from the Wisconsin River to all points east in the utility’s service territory to the Kellner area. Additionally, this substation is designed to provide enough redundancy to allow it to supply the entire electric system in the event of an emergency. Usage statistics now reveal:

  • 6,923 electric customers
  • 53,672,000 Kwh of electricity sold
  • 876 transformers in use
  • $1,013,814.91 of electric revenue


Construction is completed at 221 16th Street South on a new building to house the utility’s Office, Electric, Water and Engineering Departments all at one location. The building formerly in use at 3rd and McKinley and first built in 1934 is sold to the Consolidated Water and Power Company.


Electric service is extended to large tracts of land recently annexed to the City from the Town of Grand Rapids. This area, roughly from 1st and Two Mile east to 8th Street and north to Pepper Avenue, had formerly been served by Wisconsin Power and Light. WW&LC negotiated a purchase price with WP&L of $19,115. The distribution grid in this area is in poor condition and is rebuilt by utility crews in order to improve service and reliability. This era is a period of robust growth for the utility.


A new substation is built at 3621 Airport Avenue near the site of Collector #3. It is designed to take the transmission voltage off of the WPS transmission line at 115 Kv and split it down to 46Kv and 13.2Kv to feed two circuits supplying power to the entire east side. It is named for the utility’s previous General Manager and called the Baker Sub.


WW&LC completes a series of construction projects designed to improve reliability and capacity. A substation is added to the east side in the 1800 block of East Riverview Expressway (the High School Sub) and to the west side in the 2000 block of Gaynor Avenue (the Gaynor Sub). A transmission line is built connecting these substations with the Baker Sub to enable the utility to serve the entire distribution grid from either side of the river if necessary.


Construction of a new high voltage substation at 18th Avenue and High Street on the City’s west side is finished. Known as Wisconsin Rapids West, this substation is tied into the same feeder loop that connects the Baker, High School, & Gaynor Subs. The West Sub enables the utility to de-commission the 3rd and High Sub in order to allow Consolidated Papers room for expansion to build their Number 16 paper machine.


On October 10th, 1990 an early fall snowstorm dumps nearly 4 inches of snow on the Wisconsin Rapids area. The heavy wet snow sticks like cement to tree limbs still bearing their leaves. The combined weight snaps countless tree limbs, collapsing them into power lines and knocking out power to large areas of the distribution grid. Most area businesses and schools are shut down for the day. Electric crews scramble all day and through the night trying to keep the power on.


Usage statistics now reveal:

  • 11,772 customers
  • 208,175,000 Kwh of electricity sold
  • 2,482 transformers in use
  • $11,819,402.07 of electric revenue


In response to rapidly changing power markets Water and Light joins Great Lakes Utilities. Known by the acronym GLU, it is a consortium of municipally owned electric utilities from Clintonville, Kiel, Manitowoc, Marshfield, Medford, Rice Lake, Shawano and Wisconsin Rapids who have banded together to gain better access to the wholesale power markets and face associated power supply issues together.

On June 11th, 2001 a powerful line of thunderstorms rip through Central Wisconsin. The storms unleash straight line winds measured at 95 miles per hour and down thousands of trees. The utility’s distribution grid, especially the rural areas, is reduced to a shambles with the entire system knocked out of power. The electric crews work round the clock for two days straight followed by 16 hour days for weeks to restore power to our customers. The utility files for and receives FEMA disaster aid which helps defray some of the cost of rebuilding the electric system.


WW&LC enters into negotiations with Consolidated Water Power Company for the purchase of 90% of their service territory. The deal garners Public Service Commission approval and closes on December 7th, 2007 bringing approximately 1,000 new customers into the utility’s service territory. The geographical size of the utility’s service territory increases dramatically and now reaches nearly to the Village of Plover in Portage County.

June 7th, 2007 would bring more weather related news as super cell thunderstorms spawn a hailstorm that produces softball size hail in the area. Amazingly, despite heavy property damage in the Wisconsin Rapids area, the utility’s electric distribution system is spared any significant damage.


The rebuild of the downtown feeder loop from 2.4 Kv to 13.2 Kv is completed and the Market Street Sub is rendered obsolete. Built in 1921, it is permanently de-commissioned. Usage statistics now reveal:

  • 13,947 customers
  • 263,623,000 Kwh of electricity sold
  • 2,814 transformers in use
  • $24,638,404.00 in electric revenue


A Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) System is designed and installed at all five of the utility’s substations.  This computer system allows operators in the main office the ability to monitor and control the electrical equipment at the substations in order to increase system reliability.

All 14,000 electric meters in the system are replaced with new “smart meters”.  This Advanced Meter Infrastructure (AMI) provides two-way communication between the main office and all of the electric meters. The new meters open the door to many “state of art” features like “smart apps” for customers to look up their daily consumption, provide time of use rate structures, and eventually will be used for Demand Management and Outage Management.

WW&LC receives its first ever APPA (American Public Power Association) RP3 (Reliable Public Power Provider) award.  WW&LC is one of only 82 municipalities in the nation to receive this award in 2010 which is given in recognition of reliability, safety, energy conservation, and research and development


The new Peach Street Substation is placed into service on May 25th, 2011.  This substation is built just east of, and replaces, the existing 1957 Peach Street Substation. All 8,000 customers fed out of the old substation are transferred over to the new substation without seeing any loss in electrical power.  The new substation has the capability to feed the entire east side of the city including all of customers that were purchased from Consolidated Water Power Company in late 2007.

New LED street lighting is installed along a portion of West Grand Ave. The decorative LED lights use 50% less energy and a 16 year operating life.  The new technology is so successful that all new street light construction from this point forward will be LED technology.

A new mega-Watt (MW) peak of 59 MW’s occurs on July 20th, 2011 due to the air conditioning load brought on by high temperatures.  The new peak does not cause any voltage problems to businesses or residences in the city, a testament of the how well all of the new electrical equipment is performing.

WW&LC receives the American Public Power Association Reliable Public Power Provider (RP3) Award. This award recognizes public utilities that demonstrate high proficiency in reliability, safety, work force development, and system improvement.


Due to new federal standards on electric utility security, all utilities are required to perform a federal audit every 6 years.  WW&LC undergoes its first NERC (North American Electric Reliability Corporation) audit by the MRO (Mid-West Reliability Organization) on May 7th & 8th, 2012.  WW&LC is found compliant on all 33 standards it is responsible for.

Electric Department Vital Statistics