PGE has a rich history in Clackamas County. Thomas W. Sullivan Plant is the company’s oldest power plant, the oldest west of the Mississippi and one of the three oldest hydroelectric plants in the nation.*
The earliest attempts to harness the power of Willamette Falls reportedly occurred in the 1830s at the direction of John McLaughlin, the “Father of Oregon.” Various small timber crib dams apparently ran water wheels for lumber, flour and woolen mills over the following five decades.
PGE and the “Niagara Falls of the West”
As the U.S. entered the electric age, the 30 to 40 feet of water height, or “head,” at the falls, was a natural for power generation, and the location was promoted as the “Niagara Falls of the West.”
Using generators originally employed in a Portland sawmill, the Willamette Falls Electric Company produced the nation’s first long-distance transmission of electricity on June 3, 1889. Power traveled from Station A in Oregon City to the streetlights in Portland 14 miles away. Portland General Electric dates its history from that moment.
The Sullivan Plant is born
Station B opened on the West Linn side of the Willamette in 1895. PGE closed Station A in 1897, but B continued operation, taking the name in 1953 of the PGE hydraulic engineer who designed the station, Thomas W. Sullivan.
During the next half-century, technological advances allowed PGE to modernize the plant, and by 1953 the plant was generating 16,000 kilowatts. With regular plant upgrades and environmental protections, Sullivan’s low-cost reliable electricity has become an important source of power for PGE’s 754,000 customers.
The Sullivan plant became eligible for the National Register of Historic Places in 2002 because of its role in the industrialization of Oregon. It is also an original inductee to the Hydropower Hall of Fame.
Plant signs 30-year relicensing agreement
*Two smaller hydro plants are older than Sullivan, the Vulcan Street Hydroelectric Central Station (1892) in Appleton, Wis. and the Fulton Hydroelectric Project (1894) in upstate New York.
In 2004, as part of the license renewal process, PGE signed an agreement with a variety of governmental, environmental and tribal organizations that will allow continued 30-year operation of the Sullivan plant with enhanced production capacity and fish protection.