FirstEnergy’s Penelec company marked its centennial last week.
“The world has changed immeasurably over the last hundred years, and Penelec has been there each step of the way, delivering safe, reliable electric service to our customers,” Pennsylvania Electric Company or Penelec regional president Nick Austin said in a news release marking the anniversary. “Our employees continue to work tirelessly to satisfy our customers’ desire for the latest electric conveniences and technologies.”
Penelec’s roots reach deeper than the June 10, 1919, merger of electric companies serving various municipalities, including Punxsutawney, into the Johnstown-based Penn Public Service Corporation, which in turn came to be known eight years later as Pennsylvania Electric Company.
The deepest goes back to 1882 when, according to a history of Philipsburg, Centre County, 16 customers were served along two miles of line. Eight street arc lights also were erected and Front Street was the first business district in Centre County to be lighted.
It was one of a handful of companies that illuminated downtown streetlights, in some cases from dusk until an hour after the saloons closed.
“The company grew organically into more populated areas as it was reasonable to do so,” FirstEnergy Senior Communications Representative Christopher Eck said. “Penelec serves all of Indiana County, and has 5,853 customers in Indiana County today, but that number changes daily as people move in and out and connect and disconnect service to their homes and businesses.”
The 1919 merger linked such towns and cities as Erie, Warren, Huntingdon, Lewistown, Bedford, Punxsutawney, Towanda and Oil City. In the years that followed, Penn Public Service would swallow more than 20 small electric companies via mergers and acquisitions.
Links with future sibling company West Penn Power date to 1926, when Penn Public Service built and energized what it called a “super power line” between its Piney Hydroelectric Station on the Clarion River in Clarion County to West Penn facilities in Armstrong County. It was the final link of a transmission connection that joined networks of 17 electric companies stretching from Chicago to Boston.
As the Gazette reported at the formal opening of that plant in August 1924, it also meant inter-connection of lines in Penn Public territory “is now practically completed (with) large steam power stations at Erie and Seward,” the latter with “an ultimate capacity of 100,000 kilowatts.”
While Penn Public Service was becoming Penelec in 1927, a company history said “linemen and their horse-drawn service wagons became commonplace (just) as people expected more from electricity than brighter streets and sidewalks,” including “electric-powered lights in each room of their homes,” as well as electric irons, washing machines, vacuum cleaners “and other ‘necessities’ to ease their chores.”
Pennsylvania Electric Company also sought ways to increase that appetite. Company officials noted how the company partnered with Westinghouse in 1938 for a “Tuff Guy School” advertising campaign, “highlighting the efforts of apron-clad men as they learned to cook tasty meals with electric kitchen appliances.”
In 1946, Penelec became part of General Public Utilities Corporation, along with Jersey Central Power & Light Company and Metropolitan Edison Company. According to the Funding Universe website, GPU eventually provided more than 2 million customers with 39 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in an area covering about half of Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
GPU sought to utilize various forms of energy generation, including nuclear power from such facilities as the Three Mile Island plant near Harrisburg, with Penelec listed as 25 percent owner, Jersey Central 25 percent and Metropolitan Edison 50 percent.
One of the two TMI reactors had a partial meltdown in 1979. GPU eventually was able to clean up TMI, then sold it to Exelon for $100 million in 1998. The undamaged reactor is to be shut down permanently come September, while the other unit is said to be dormant and may be permanently closed down by 2036.
Meanwhile, in 1997, Akron, Ohio-based First-Energy was formed in the merger of Ohio Edison and Centerior Energy.
In 2001, GPU was merged into FirstEnergy, creating much of the modern FirstEnergy network.
In 2011, FirstEnergy acquired Allegheny Energy of Greensburg, bringing West Penn Power, Monongahela Power and Potomac Edison into its fold. FirstEnergy also includes The Illuminating Company in Cleveland, Toledo Edison and Penn Power in northwestern Pennsylvania.
Today it is one of the nation’s largest investor-owned electric systems, serving customers in Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, West Virginia, Maryland and New York, with transmission subsidiaries operating more than 24,000 miles of lines that connect the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic regions.
Amid all the changes in corporate management, Penelec cites a tradition of strong community support.
“Penelec’s commitment to the areas we call home doesn’t stop with the delivery of reliable electric service,” Austin said. “Our employees live in the communities we serve, happily volunteering their time,
talents and dollars to make each a better place to live, work and raise families.”