The Start of Public Power
In the early part of the 20th century there was electricity. What was lacking was affordable and
accessible electricity in the rural areas of Washington. It was access to affordable power in rural
communities that was the key driver of the public utility district movement.
In 1928, the Washington State Grange gathered at their state Grange session. The Grange
decided to pursue an initiative to the legislature that would authorize communities to own and
operate their own not-for-profit utility. The Grange launched a signature gathering campaign.
After gathering 60,000 signatures, Initiative #1 was headed to the Legislature. The Legislation
did not pass in the 1929 session and the initiative went to a state-wide vote in the 1930 General
Election. It passed with a 54% majority and became law.
Once the PUD law was passed, communities could then form public utility districts by a vote of
the people. PUDs were authorized by law to provide electrical, water and wastewater services.
In 2000, the law was changed to allow PUDs to provide wholesale telecommunications services
as well. The PUD movement wasn’t without opposition after the approval of the law. Private
power supporters opposed PUD ballot measures and launched legal challenges. A legal
challenge against one of the new county-wide PUDs (Benton County) was defended by the
Grange and the State Supreme Court validated the constitutionality of the PUD law in 1936.
Today there are 28 operating PUDs in Washington State. The PUDs today reflect their long
history, with a focus on providing affordable, reliable and safe service that meets the needs of
Washington PUDs (PDF)
Principles of the Washington PUD Law (PDF)