Electron began to generate energy for the first time in its history on April 14, 1904. For the past fourteen months, a crew of 1,500 to 2,500 men had worked to build one of the most innovative examples of hydropower of its time. Bihler and Rydstrom, a company from Tacoma, Washington, worked to design and construct a powerhouse that would be forty-two feet deep and 150 feet long. The Porter Brothers of Spokane built the diversion and intake structure.
The ten mile long flume and reservoir were the brainchild of Stone and Webster, an engineering firm from Boston. Stone and Webster faced many challenges in their design. It was estimated that the slope of the hillside was greater than fifty degrees for more than fifty percent of the length of the flume. They also incorporated numerous curves into the flume to help steady the flow of the water moving through its channel. These famous curves are responsible for the flume's most popular nickname: the Crookedest Railroad in the World.
Most of the materials used to construct the flume, as well as other aspects of the project were brought in by pack trains. An estimated 600 teams of horses towed lumber, while workers cleared timber and built roads on the unforgiving land. To this day, much of flume is accessible only by a rail car that travels on top of the structure, on which only Electron Hydro employees are authorized to ride.
Powerhouse Construction, 1903
The Electron Hydro Project represents a substantial living history lesson in the imagination, engineering and willpower of early settlers and their technology. There are few facilities that continue to operate as originally intended for such a long period of time. Elements such as the train on top of the flume to service the flume pre-date the automobile, yet ultimately have had a lower impact and longer service life. The turbines and generators are the original equipment and are still spinning. Even the Powerhouse has managed to survive a few landslides and still provide a footing for the generating equipment.
As important as the past is, Electron is uniquely positioned for present needs and to adjust to future potential climate change. The Mt. Rainier and Puyallup watershed vicinity are anticipated to become warmer with more precipitation on average over the years. This would likely translate to less snowpack and more rain at lower elevations. However, Mount Rainier is a major massif with extensive land area at higher elevations. It is anticipated that the mountain will receive more precipitation and that precipitation will be stored as snow and ice at higher elevations than that which presently melts on a seasonal basis. The net effect will be snow and ice storage will move upslope, and the Mt. has the altitude/elevation to take it all. Electron will continue to be a strong summer power generator as well as the rest of the year.
Clean renewable energy, sustainable forestry, fish production, Orcas, our history and future climate change all make Electron Hydro a strong community partner!