Tacoma had experienced power shortages in the past, and met them by temporary curtailments and by purchasing power from other sources. These steps were necessary only until new generation sources came on line. By the 1970s, major hydroelectric development had ended and City Light turned to thermal sources for energy. Coal, gas, and nuclear power were more expensive than hydropower and some new plants were years away from completion. Every year, Tacomans broke records with the electricity they used.
A dry year struck Washington in 1974. River flows that powered Tacoma’s generators dwindled. Mountain snow packs were the lowest in 30 years. City Light started a Watt Watcher program, encouraging users to reduce electricity use. This resulted in a much-needed 10 percent reduction savings. Another even more severe drought hit the state in 1977 and City light had to buy power, which it sold to ratepayers at a loss. The Tight Watt program urged more conservation. A quarter of the city’s streetlights went dark and consumption dropped. The Peak Eater program encouraged customers to shift their usage away from those times of the day when consumption was the highest. The Energy Efficient Home program set new standards for new home construction.
During the energy crisis of 2001, when Tacoma Power had to purchase electricity at exorbitant rates, Tacoma customers saved the utility $59 million by conserving