By the turn of the twentieth century, then, Alberta’s three largest cities were being provided with electricity by private enterprises. And within ten years, all three were facing major problems in their efforts to keep pace with the province’s explosive population growth. The problems were perhaps most acute for the Edmonton Electric Lighting Company, which had chosen to build its plant on the shore of the North Saskatchewan River. Severe flooding in 1899 and 1900 damaged the plant and raised the ire of customers who had to go for extended periods of time with no electricity. In 1902, armed with a public mandate, the City of Edmonton bought out the Edmonton Electric Lighting Company, becoming the first municipally-owned electric utility of its size in all of Canada.
Calgary followed a different model. Like Edmonton, the City of Calgary was not satisfied with its existing service at the turn of the twentieth century, and in 1904, it refused to renew Peter Prince’s ten-year monopoly contract. The municipal government built a coal-fueled power plant in 1905 to provide for some of Calgary’s needs, but it did not embrace public ownership of its electric utility as enthusiastically as Edmonton. Instead, the City sought out other partners in the private sector almost immediately. Several candidates emerged, but Calgary Power (now TransAlta) won out as the dominant private corporation in Calgary’s electricity market.
Finally, Lethbridge followed a model that took advantage of its dominant position in the coal industry. In 1907, the municipal government took control of electricity generation and distribution in Lethbridge, purchasing the facilities of the Lethbridge Electric Light Company and putting into motion plans to build a new power plant. The project faced numerous challenges, not the least of which was the fact that the old plant was destroyed by fire before the new plant was complete, requiring the city to depend for a time on surplus electricity generated from the coal mines. Nonetheless, by 1913 Lethbridge was able to offer electricity to its citizens for an exceptionally cheap price (two cents per kilowatt hour), due to the fact that the city government had access to cheap fuel through its own municipally-owned coal mine.
Faced with the common challenge of providing electricity for a constantly growing population, Alberta’s three largest cities in the early twentieth century thus followed slightly different models of development. The province was on the cusp of a major expansion in terms of its electricity generation—in 1911, Horseshoe Falls, the province’s first hydroelectric project, opened for business, with many more such projects to follow. Yet through the end of the Second World War, electricity in Alberta remained very much a feature of urban Alberta. It was not until the 1950s and beyond that rural Alberta enjoyed the benefits of electricity on a significant scale.