The Power Controversy

Robert W. Righter

in The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy

Published in print April 2005 | ISBN: 9780195149470
Published online September 2007 | e-ISBN: 9780199788934 | DOI:
The Power Controversy

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The Hetch Hetchy fight was greatly influenced by the nascent battle over who would provide the public with electrical power. Would it be public power or a private power company? Would it be San Francisco or the newly-formed (1905) Pacific Gas and Electric Company? For some, such as Senator George Norris of Nebraska, the heart of the Hetch Hetchy fight was to keep power in the public's hands. Therefore, the Raker Act granted San Francisco the right to build and operate electrical generating stations, but specifically prohibiting the city from selling that power to a privately owned company. In 1925, however, San Francisco violated the Raker Act by contracting with PG&E to purchase for $2 million per year all of the power generated by the Hetch Hetchy system. Most of this chapter chronicles the long fight between San Francisco and the federal government. It particularly focuses on Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes' determination to bring public power to San Francsico, rejected eight times in public bond issues. Although Ickes view was sustained by a U.S. Supreme Court ruling (US vs. City and County of San Francisco, 1940), by the late 1940s he had lost his battle. Today, the people of San Franciscan still pay the PG&E for their electricity. Congress expected the Hetch Hetchy system to provide the city with municipal water and power. Only 50 percent of that goal was realized. Today, most of the Hetch Hetchy system electricity is sold to the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts.

Keywords: public versus private power; Pacific Gas and Electric Company; Raker Act; Senator George Norris; Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes; New Deal; Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts; Tuolumne River

Chapter.  10301 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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