This month, we celebrate the 140th anniversary of the first bill sent by an electric utility. While it may seem strange to celebrate something that costs us money every month, stay with me for a minute.
On January 18, 1883, the Edison Illuminating Co. sent the Ansonia Brass and Copper Co. a bill for $50.44. Most of us would love a January bill for that amount these days, but imagine how expensive that was 140 years ago. Assuming an average inflation rate of 2.46% a year, that $50.44 would be more than $1,488 in today’s dollars.
Lightbulbs were also expensive for the time—$1 each, or almost $30 in today’s money. The bulbs didn’t last nearly as long or operate as efficiently as our modern LEDs.
The power sold to Ansonia was generated at Pearl Street Station in New York, which opened in September 1882. Edison Illuminating insisted no bills be sent to its customers until the system operated reliably.
In the first year, the company billed customers for $9,000 of electricity. It took three years before Pearl Street Station was profitable.
One of the most expensive parts of the new power grid was burying the power lines in conduits under New York city streets. The system cost about $300,000 to build. It also required a huge amount of coal to feed the boilers that provided steam for the dynamos used to generate electricity.
Those dynamos—what we now call generators—were developed by Edison Illuminating and weighed 27 tons each. Each produced 100 kilowatts of electricity, which was enough to power 1,200 lights. It took six dynamos to light up 1 square mile of New York City.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying we have it pretty good today. The West enjoys some of the lowest energy rates in the country, thanks to abundant hydropower, solar and wind.