Power to the People: Electricity Service Arrives in Rural Alberta
In 1959, Fort Chipewyan—located 220 kilometres north of Fort McMurray—became Alberta’s most northerly electrified community. Central power was supplied to residents using 150-kilowatt diesel generators brought in by Canadian Utilities Limited.
Electrical service was gradually spreading to rural Alberta.
Around the same time, a major push to bring electricity to Alberta farms was nearing completion. The news was announced by the chair of the Alberta Power Commission, James MacGregor, P.Eng., in the commission’s 1960 annual report.
By the end of that year, the number of Alberta farms with electricity had reached 53,151, a huge jump from 11,032 in 1950 and even bigger one from 1945, when just 496 farms were serviced.
The power commission regulated the province’s utility companies and oversaw electricity planning and distribution. The annual report noted that the capacity of Alberta’s power plants had also experienced “an amazingly large increase.” From 1950 to 1960, the commission pointed out, generation capacity had grown 340 per cent to 917,000 kilowatts.
The province’s overall electricity needs continued to grow.
Engineers like MacGregor were tasked with solving the complex engineering and construction challenges posed by these rising demands.
“Among the major plants that came into operation in 1960 were two rubber tire plants, two big inch pipe mills, oil refineries and gas processing plants, and a fibreglass insulation plant,” MacGregor wrote in the annual report. As well, two meat packing plants, three petrochemical plants, an evaporated milk plant, more gas plants, and several oil fields were expected to connect to the grid the following year.
“The population of the province is increasing, new industries are coming in, and the prospects of the gas export are all factors that will keep Alberta’s rate of electrical growth very high.”
When it opens in 2020, a new solar farm in Fort Chipewyan will reduce the community’s reliance on diesel generation. A project of Three Nations Energy, the farm will be the largest off-grid solar and storage project in Canada. It will produce about 25 per cent of Fort Chipewyn’s electricity.
Dr. James MacGregor, P.Eng., chaired the Alberta’s Power Commission in the 1950s. He also served on APEGA Council in 1944 and was vice-president in 1950. A history buff, he is shown here in 1957, displaying a Clovis point spearhead found near Vilna. It was believed to be the oldest of its kind ever found in Canada.