By the end of the First World War, electricity was well established in Alberta. The province was home to the first municipally-owned power utility in the country; Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge all enjoyed the benefits of modern, electric streetcar systems; and the Bow River had been harnessed to generate power at the Horseshoe Falls Dam, with plans for future hydroelectric development well underway. There was just one group that had not yet enjoyed the benefits of electricity—the majority of the population that lived in rural, rather than urban, Alberta.
Up through the 1920s, there was little pressure to extend electricity into rural Alberta. Electricity was still viewed as something of a novelty rather than as a necessity, and the cost of rural electrification was prohibitive, both for the companies that would have to pay for the new infrastructure necessary to deliver it, and by the farmers themselves who would have to add the monthly cost of electricity to already tight operating budgets. By the early 1920s, however, a third option was being discussed throughout the province—a publicly-owned utility. The province would assume financial responsibility for the
cost of the infrastructure and regulate prices to ensure a fair deal for farmers. Public utilities were well established at the provincial level in Manitoba and Ontario, and momentum seemed to be moving Alberta in that direction after the First World War. In addition, a new government, the United Farmers of Alberta (UFA), took power in Alberta.
The UFA began as a grassroots populist movement and entered politics for the first time with great success in the 1921 provincial election, winning a majority government. Resolutions at UFA conventions across the province had called for rural electrification and public ownership, resolutions that were supported by the women’s auxiliary of the movement, the United Farm Women of Alberta. The UFA government explored the possibility of rural electrification in the 1920s, but the estimated cost—$200 million—was deemed prohibitively expensive. Still, advocates pushed for rural electrification and public ownership through the 1920s until the Great Depression shelved any possibility of such a major public investment. In short, the government could not afford to pay for the infrastructure, and farmers certainly couldn’t pay for the monthly cost in the ravaged agricultural economy.