Seattle City Light inaugurates Kill-A-Watt to conserve electricity on July 17, 1973.

  • By David Wilma
  • Posted 12/27/2000
  • Essay 2910
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On July 17, 1973, after more than 60 years of promoting the use of electricity, Seattle City Light inaugurates Kill-A-Watt to encourage conservation. Planners project that the demand for electric power will outstrip the supply until new hydroelectric and thermal (nuclear, coal, and natural gas) plants are available. By the end of the year, voluntary conservation reduces consumption by 7 percent.

The Era of Profligate Use

Beginning with the first delivery of electric power to residential consumers in 1905, Seattle City Light encouraged the use of electricity. The earliest customers were provided free installation and free replacement light globes. In 1911, the utility began selling appliances to consumers. Only during World War II was conservation encouraged. After the war, electric home heating became practical and consumers were told of the advantages of outdoor lighting. Electricity use increased tenfold between 1937 and 1962, while City Light was able to continuously cut its rates.

In 1970, inflation, lower stream flows into reservoirs, and a decline in load growth forced City Light to ask the city council for a rate increase, the first since 1920. Also, the city council stopped paying the utility to light the streets, a substantial loss in revenue.

Enter Conservation

In 1971, the active promotion of electricity use ended. In 1968, City Light planned to build its own nuclear power plant on Kiket Island near Deception Pass, and to raise Ross Dam to meet the projected demand. The nuclear power plant was shelved in 1972. The Lake Union steam plant was called into service in 1973 to meet power needs. A year after the July 1973 Kill-A-Watt conservation program was inaugurated, electricity consumption had dropped by 7 percent.

In 1975, a City Light advisory committee published a nine-volume report, Energy 1990, which proposed that Seattle change its approach to energy use. Instead of joining in the construction of nuclear power plants, City Light should continue to conserve and look for alternative ways to generate electricity. The city council adopted this policy the following year.


City of Seattle, Department of Lighting, Annual Reports, 1912 to 1976. See Also Seattle City Light, Energy 1990 (Seattle: Seattle City Light, 1976).

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