It was in 1889, just ten years after Thomas A. Edison invented the incandescent electric light bulb, that a group of Greenfield city councilmen and businessmen took hold of what was then a startlingly modern idea - that of lighting the town with electricity from a municipal light plant. Just a year later, in the fall of 1890, their idea was a reality. Greenfield had a municipal light plant, one of the first in Iowa. The far-sighted action by the city fathers came at a time when candles were the main light in homes, kerosene lamps were a fad and gas lamps illuminated the streets. At a council meeting August 19, 1889, John Hetherington, D. W. Wood, Heaton and Hunt were named to investigate the project. On June 9, of 1890 the matter was put to a vote of the citizens, and carried 140 to 87. Bids were opened in July, $10,000, in bonds issued, and Hawkeye Electric Mfg. Co. received the contract for the 75 horsepower boiler and engine, belted to a small direct current generator. H.W. Greenlee had the contract for the station house. Alvin Rivenburgh was the first plant engineer. He also was fireman, electrician, bill collector and even street commissioner.
The first plant operated just between sundown and 11 p.m., and during the winter months from 5 a.m. until daybreak. Getting the plant into operation took time, as the boiler had to be brought up to steam gradually, lest the change in temperature crack the pipes. In those early days, parties and meetings had to adjourn by 11, unless, as was done more than once, the refreshment committee took a lunch to Mr. Rivenburgh and he kept the plant operating until midnight so the members or guests could get safely to bed before the lights went out.
Getting water for the plant boilers proved to be a problem. Several wells were dug. Finally, "Lake Ping Pong" was built in southeast Greenfield, and a large windmill installed to pump the water to the plant.
Street lights were the main load on the new plant at first, but lighting for homes and business buildings soon caught on, even though some home owners still didn't trust this new source and wanted visible electric wires in view in case they became overheated.
Helping Mr. Rivenburgh operate the first light plant were John Brown and Nate Harvey. Mr. Harvey fired the boiler, and later became president of Illinois Electric Co. of Chicago.
The growing electric load brought the need for plant expansion, and a Bates/Corliss engine was purchased in 1905. The first light meters were installed in 1906 and a rate schedule established of 50 cents a month for a 16-candlepower light: A Fort Wayne dynamo was added in 1909.
The Greenfield light plant expanded again in 1913, with a new steam engine and dynamo that supplied alternating current. That same year Greenfield contracted to furnish electricity to Fontanelle at a rate of 6 cents per KWH.
At the end of World War I coal shortages caused a curfew of electric power from 10 p.m. until 8 a.m. Steam gave way to diesel power at the Greenfield plant in 1924. A bond issue for $45,000, approved by 678 to 91 in an election, financed a new plant and a 300 hp Fulton diesel engine and 200 KW generator. C. C. Dudley was hired as superintendent and the new diesel went on line. In 1927 a second Fulton diesel of 400 horsepower and 275 KW was installed.
To those two units, a Chicago Pneumatic 400 hp 250 KW unit was added in 1937 but it was never able to meet specifications and was removed. Glen Yarger had taken over as superintendent of the plant in 1935. Under his direction, the old steam plant was torn down and a new plant addition built in 1939 and in 1940 a 730 hp Fulton and 500 KW diesel unit was installed.
Since the Farmers Electric Cooperative had been organized and the lines connected to the Greenfield plant in 1939, the 1940 diesel still was not able to keep up with rising demand, and a fourth unit, a five cylinder Fulton of 750 hp and 500 KW capacity, was installed in 1941.
In 1942, Mr. Yarger resigned and was succeeded by Carl W. Johnson as superintendent.
The period following World War II was one of great growth in demand for electricity. Electric power was replacing manual labor on the farm and taking the drudgery out of many chores in the home. In 1952 an Enterprise dual fuel engine, using natural gas or diesel fuel, replaced one of the old Fultons.
As electricity moved from being one of life's luxuries to one of life's necessities during the second half of the Greenfield municipal utilities' century of growth, power cost and power reliability became of increasing importance. In May of 1956, the utilities signed an agreement for a connecting transmission line. giving Greenfield an alternate source of energy.
This interconnection of lines continued to grow. In July of 1963, the Southwestern Federated plant at Creston was shut down as the system began using power from the big federal dams on the Missouri River along with other large generator sources.
Greenfield Municipal Utilities no longer supplied electricity to the city of Fontanelle, as that community located in the Missouri basin, was able to buy cheaper power from the federal dams located on the Missouri River. Upon connecting to Central Iowa Power Cooperative (CIPCO), Greenfield was able to gain access to multiple sources of power including coal, hydro, nuclear and gas turbine. This arrangement and the formation of Southern Iowa Municipal Electric Cooperative Association (SIMECA) also allowed Greenfield to obtain better electrical rates.
The CIPCO/SIMECA arrangement has continued to serve the community well, but local generation capacity was not neglected. A 1,835 kilowatt Nordberg diesel replaced the last of the old Fulton diesels at the plant in 1963-64, and in 1973-74 a 2,750 kilowatt Fairbanks-Morse engine was added in a container behind the Power Plant. This high-speed diesel was designed for emergency standby with quick start-up capabilities, and could carry the total electrical needs of the town for a short period of time during its installation. The three engines (Enterprise, Nordberg & Fairbanks-Morse) currently located at the Power Plant could provide for all the stand-by electrical needs of Greenfield until the early 2000’s. These diesel engines also provided the community with the benefit of local controlled generation that could be started quickly, thus greatly reduce outage times during incoming transmission power line outages.
Greenfield’s growing industrial park required the addition of a second substation and connection to CIPCO’s 69,000 volt transmission line. This substation currently serves the industrial area and the Northern area of Greenfield.
The addition of the North Power Plant and two Caterpillar diesel stand-by engines with the capability of producing up to 1,825 kilowatts each was completed in 2001 at the site of the industrial substation. This new Power Plant building was designed to house a total of six diesel engines, should the need for additional stand-by generation arise. Due to additional electrical requirements from the residents of Greenfield and the expansion of Cardinal IG, this need came sooner than expected and two additional Caterpillar 2,250 kilowatt diesel engines were installed in 2011. This area where the North Power Plant and the Industrial Substation is located was renamed Armstead Energy Park in 2014 when long-time General Manager Duane Armstead retired.
Management and Employees
Detmer Moore served as Superintendent of Greenfield Municipal Utilities from September 23, 1959 until his retirement in April 1, 1977. Gary Stuve succeeded him, followed by Bob Guikema until April 1, 1984 when Duane Armstead became the Superintendent until his retirement on April 1, 2014. Scott Tonderum was hired on December 9, 2013 as Assistant General Manager and promoted to General Manager in 2014 and continues in that capacity.
Through the years, the growing needs of Greenfield for electricity and water have been met with constant changes and upgrades of plants, equipment and lines. But another and perhaps even more important part of the story is the long succession of loyal employees, those people that tended to the engines through the night in those early years, and answered the call when mother nature caused the lights to flicker and go out from time-to-time. Also, behind this group of employees is a Board of Trustees who served the community as volunteers and have had the visions to look into the future, and plan accordingly before the need arrives.