CL&P History

When the Connecticut Light and Power Company (CL&P) was formed on August 9, 1917, it was the era of the trolley and the horse-and-buggy, and most of Connecticut had narrow dirt roads. Electricity was used primarily for operating streetcars, for illumination, and for industrial purposes. Many applications of electricity on which modern society is built were not even imagined.

Early CL&PAn early CL&P office 

CL&P was instrumental in developing the statewide network of transmission and distribution lines which helped expand Connecticut's economy. The state's electric system owes much to the vision of J. Henry Roraback, a lawyer and powerful politician who founded CL&P and served as its president from 1925 until his death in 1937. A lifelong resident of North Canaan, CT, his vision was key in the founding and successful expansion of CL&P.

As early as 1905, Roraback had plans for an electrical system that would supply the entire state. That year, The Rocky River Power Company was organized by Roraback and permitted by charter to develop the power resources of the Rocky River in western Connecticut. In 1911, he drew a power map of the western part of the state on which he proposed main transmission lines. Years later, when the lines were built, their routes very closely followed his original plans.

In 1917, The Rocky River Power Company changed its name to The Connecticut Light and Power Company. At the same time, The Housatonic Power Company, The United Electric Light and Water Company (which served Waterbury, New Britain, Norwalk, and Greenwich), and The Seymour Electric Company were acquired by CL&P. Through this process, The Connecticut Light and Power Company system was born. In 1929, The Eastern Connecticut Power Company, an organization of local power plants in the eastern portion of the state, merged into CL&P.

In the early 20th century, water was one of the primary sources for generating electricity in Connecticut, due to the increasing use of the Housatonic River as a power source. When CL&P was organized, the Bulls Bridge plant in New Milford was already in operation, its 6,000-kilowatt capacity comprising about a quarter of the total CL&P system capacity. Built in 1903, Bulls Bridge was the first large hydroelectric plant on the river and one of the first in the United States. It was also among the first to transmit electricity at a high voltage (33,500 volts) for any great distance. The line, completed in 1904, ran 26 miles to Waterbury. It was considered a pioneering development and attracted the attention of electrical engineers from all over the United States.

Bulls BridgeBulls Bridge 

After CL&P was formed, the development of the statewide electric power grid took shape with the consolidation of many local electric companies, the construction of large central generating stations, and the extensions of transmission lines to carry the power from the plants. Obsolete and inefficient units were dismantled and replaced with new, large power houses, transmission lines, and substations. Distribution systems in many cities and towns across Connecticut were rebuilt.

In 1917, CL&P had 43,436 customers and annual electric sales of 143,000,000 kilowatt-hours. By 1937, CL&P had approximately 2,300 employees, 160,790 customers, and electric sales of 646,000,000 kilowatt-hours, producing $15,200,000 in revenues. The electrification of Connecticut was occurring at a rapid pace in all segments of society - industrial, commercial, municipal, residential, and farm.

The efficiencies of the larger CL&P system brought lower electric rates to areas formerly served by smaller electric companies. In 1926, for example, CL&P acquired the electric companies serving Meriden, Woodbury, Westport, New Milford, and some neighboring towns. The charge for 100 kilowatt-hours in Meriden before the merger was $9; after the merger, it was $5.80 - an immediate reduction of 35 percent. Other small-town companies' charges for that amount ranged up to $15.

CL&P as it exists today is made up of more than 60 former operating companies. CL&P's growth is reflected in the career of Richard F. Gretsch, who retired from the company in 1973 as a division manager.

CLP OfficeCL&P office, Norwalk, CT, 1928 

Gretsch began his utility career as a cadet engineer for Brooklyn Edison Company in New York in 1930. After World War II, he joined The Danbury and Bethel Gas and Electric Light Company and was elected president in 1948.

At that time, the company served Danbury, Bethel, Brookfield, and Newtown. In 1944, it was purchased by the Derby Gas & Electric Company, but continued to operate as a separate entity. Then, in 1953, it was consolidated with The Derby Gas and Electric Company and the Wallingford Gas Light Company to form The Housatonic Public Service Company. Gretsch was elected executive vice president of the enlarged Housatonic Public Service Company (HPS).

HPS grew as further consolidation occurred. In 1961, it was merged into CL&P and Gretsch became the Housatonic Division manager in charge of the company's activities from New Milford to Derby - a territory far larger than he had managed as head of Danbury and Bethel Gas and Electric Light Company.

Utilities have always played a major role in the development of an area’s commercial, financial, and cultural activities. Upon coming to the Danbury area, Richard F. Gretsch became involved in its civic life through the Danbury Industrial Corporation (DIC), which was founded in 1918 by leaders of the business community to encourage a variety of industry and commerce in the Danbury community. Danbury was known as the Hat City because of its numerous hat factories, but hat making -- the city’s single industry - was becoming an ailing trade. The DIC wanted to attract new, diversified industry to the area.

After World War II, the hat industry began to fade rapidly. One company after another closed. The city was faced with a real economic problem. To solve it, the DIC joined forces with the Chamber of Commerce, banks, realtors, and government to develop the Danbury region in a planned, orderly manner, free from dependence on just one industry.

Gretsch became a director of the DIC in 1949, president in 1963, and chairman of the board in 1975. It was, he said, a "volunteer, unpaid weekend job." Under his leadership, the DIC expanded its influence from the greater Danbury area to the region west of the Connecticut River. The DIC was instrumental in bringing many new businesses to the region, notably major corporations such as IBM and Union Carbide. As the coastal towns to the south zoned out industry in favor of maintaining their residential character, the DIC encouraged industry to come to the greater Danbury area. This, in turn, translated into greatly expanded activity for the Housatonic Division of CL&P, which Gretsch managed.

Farming and agriculture were also an important market for the electric utility industry. Rural electrification led CL&P to create a Farm Sales Department which encouraged farmers to electrify their properties. CL&P retiree David N. Stiles, who was manager of Farm Sales for many years, was part of the effort to educate farming families in the use of electricity to increase farm production.

Farm Electrification CL&P's mobile display for
farm electrification

In the 1940s and '50s, Stiles worked with the 4-H, Grange, vocational education teachers, and other groups to show farmers how to wire their buildings, use electric motors and controls, and otherwise electrify agricultural operations. The first all-electric farm, the Bass Brothers' Farm near Willimantic, used electricity to heat the farmhouse. When the last farm in CL&P territory was connected to the power grid in the early 1950s, it was celebrated in the media as a major accomplishment. Another notable Farm Sales Department achievement was winning the Edison Electric Institute award in 1972 for electrifying the Pinchbeck Greenhouses in Guilford. Sodium lights were installed to extend the growing season for roses. As a result, flower production doubled and proved to be a great economic success for the grower.

In the early 1950s, nearly a dozen New England electric companies, including CL&P, Hartford Electric Light Company (HELCO), and Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO), formed the Yankee Atomic Electric Company to jointly build a nuclear plant, Yankee Rowe, which began operating in 1960 in Rowe, Massachusetts. The success of Yankee Rowe demonstrated the feasibility of commercial nuclear power generation, so, in 1962, CL&P, HELCO, WMECO, and other New England utilities formed a company to build Connecticut's first nuclear power plant, Connecticut Yankee (CY). CY entered commercial operation in 1968, three years after the start of construction.

Gas operations were likewise expanding with the introduction of natural gas to Connecticut in 1952. Brought via pipeline from the Southwest, it had higher heat content per cubic foot than the various mixtures of manufactured gas used until then. Throughout the 1950s, the post-war economic boom continued. CL&P's service area now included more than 70 percent of the state by area, but only one of the four largest cities, Waterbury. As economic growth led a population shift from the cities to the suburbs, CL&P was the principal beneficiary of that movement. People were urged by the advertising symbol Reddy Kilowatt and CL&P's Electric Sales Department to "live better electrically" in all-electric Gold Medallion Homes. By 1962, annual operating revenues were above $100,000,000, with gas sales providing 17 percent of that figure. Residential electric sales provided nearly half of the total electric revenue. The company had 376,000 electric customers and about 110,000 gas customers.

The worst natural disasters to strike Connecticut since the 1938 hurricane occurred in 1955, when two floods ravaged CL&P facilities throughout the state. In August, following torrential rains, the Naugatuck, Mad, and Quinebaug Rivers overflowed their banks. Hardest hit were the Naugatuck Valley and the towns of Winsted and Putnam, where there were complete interruptions of electric and gas service. Normal communications were cut off and ordinary routes were impassible, but CL&P’s crews were on the scene quickly and service was rapidly restored to all customers.

Hartford FloodFlooding in downtown Hartford 

Later that year, in October 1955, three days of continuous rain swelled the Norwalk River over its banks, disrupting service in the greater Norwalk area. The restoration of gas service in the flood-stricken communities on both occasions presented far greater problems than the restoration of electric service. Meters had to be turned off and lines purged of all water and air.

When gas again filled distribution mains, servicemen had to visit every house, check pilots and appliances, and turn on each meter. While the two floods caused more than $1,000,000 in property damage to the company's facilities, CL&P employees, working alongside crews brought in from neighboring and out-of-state utilities, worked diligently to restore service.

By 1956, CL&P served about two-thirds of the state by area and about 39 percent by population. Operating revenues had increased to $70,000,000 a year, earned from 300,000 electric customers and 85,000 gas customers.

In 1960, CL&P put into operation a unique, underground electric dispatching center designed to withstand natural disasters and the danger of radioactive fallout in the event of nuclear war. The center, located in Southington, Connecticut, became the nerve center of the company's generation and transmission system. In 1964, the electric energy dispatch and transmission system was regionalized, with the creation of the New England Power Pool. At that time, CL&P’s Southington facility became known as the Connecticut Valley Electric Exchange (CONVEX). Also in 1964, the company's Board of Directors promoted Sherman R. Knapp to chairman and elected Paul V. Hayden to succeed Knapp as president.

CT Valley Electric Exchange Connecticut Valley Electric Exchange
underground dispatchers' room, 1967

By 1965, CL&P had more than 3,200 employees. Kilowatt-hour (kWh) sales per customer were continuing to increase every year, reflecting strong promotional efforts in advertising and sales. In 1917, when the company was founded, sales per residential customer per year averaged 247 kWh; by 1937, the average had grown to 913 kWh. In 1965, the typical CL&P residential electric customer had an annual usage of 4,554 kWh, the largest annual figure recorded at that time.

Favorable public reaction to CL&P's role in the state's economic expansion was expressed in a Waterbury American editorial (November 14, 1963): "We feel that the utility firm deserves public commendation for its action - and it reaffirms our conviction that privately operated public utilities paying taxes and contributing to the national economic welfare can do the best possible job under our system of profit incentive, with a minimum of governmental control. The action reaffirms our faith in free enterprise."

In 1966, Northeast Utilities (NU) was created as the parent company of three distinguished subsidiaries: The Connecticut Light and Power Company (CL&P), Western Massachusetts Electric Company (WMECO) and Hartford Electric Light Company (HELCO). These three companies had been working together since the mid-1920s on many power-pooling and long-range planning projects. Northeast Utilities was ultimately formed in response to increasing power demands across the state and developments in new power technology. The holding company would consolidate the resources of the three companies into one single system, allowing them to increase their service reliability and lower the cost of service to customers. It was recognized as the largest utility in New England and one of the largest in the nation. At NU’s inception, CL&P chairman and chief executive officer, Sherman R. Knapp, became president and chief executive officer of Northeast Utilities. Raymond A. Gibson, chairman of HELCO and Howard J. Cadwell, chairman of WMECO were chosen to complete NU’s executive team.

Berlin OfficeBerlin, CT, administration building 

CL&P's corporate offices had been at 36 Pearl Street, Hartford, for many years and briefly—from 1950 to 1952—at its Freight Street building in Waterbury. In 1952, CL&P opened its new and distinctive corporate headquarters—an administration building and a service building—located in Berlin on Route 15, the Berlin Turnpike. The administration building was a two-story brick structure of modified Georgian Colonial design. Seen from above, it looked like a giant "T."

The first of several major expansions to the building was completed in 1959 when a north wing was added. Other buildings have since been erected on the grounds so that the original building is now part of a large complex. When Northeast Utilities was formed in 1966, HELCO'S Wethersfield facility became the site of NU's executive offices. After a major expansion of the Berlin building in 1969, the executive’s offices were moved there and it became the General Offices of NU.

Throughout the 1970s, international affairs significantly impacted the operating costs of Northeast Utilities and CL&P. More specifically, the Arab oil embargo which lasted from 1972-1973, forced oil costs around the world to rise. As energy costs increased, CL&P was forced to request eight rate increases during the 1970s, causing considerable political controversy. In 1975, Ella T. Grasso was elected as Governor of Connecticut and she replaced the Public Utilities Commission, the organization that oversaw rate increases granted to CL&P, with a new organization, the Public Utilities Control Authority. In 1976, the authority ordered CL&P to reduce their rates by $22 million to mirror the rates present in 1974.

Northeast Utilities and CL&P expanded their interests in the nuclear power industry and soon became the world’s largest producer of nuclear-generated electric power at the time. By 1970, a nuclear plant had been constructed in Waterford, Connecticut, at Millstone Point on Long Island Sound. The Millstone Point nuclear plant was entirely owned by NU, with CL&P holding an 81 percent share in the facility.

By the late 1970s and early 1980s, CL&P was forced to face some major issues associated with its nuclear energy program. Although consumers were paying some of the lowest rates in the Northeast because of NU’s use of nuclear power, the company itself had to pay steep fees to the U.S. Department of Energy to dispose of spent fuel.

MP3Millstone III, nuclear power plant, in Waterford, Connecticut 

Connecticut’s largest nuclear power plant of the time, Millstone III, was completed in 1986. The fourth power plant of its kind in the area, Millstone III cost $3.8 billion to construct and CL&P had a 53 percent stake in the facility.

CL&P absorbed the Hartford Electric Light Company in 1984, raising the number of CL&P electricity generating units to 65. During the 1980s, CL&P experienced much prosperity as net income and return on equity continued to rise. Regulators who recognized this prosperity continued to deny rate increases and imposed a rate freeze until early 1988.

During the early 1990s, CL&P greatly expanded its environmental consciousness and conservation efforts. One of its landmark environmental programs, a free collection of old refrigerators and freezers, took place between 1990 and 1994. CL&P collected 49,000 refrigerators and 11,000 freezers, many that used large amounts of electricity. Not only did this collection save energy for customers, but CL&P was also able to recycle 11 million pounds of metal and thousands of gallons of refrigerant, which was a big step in decreasing the company’s environmental footprint.

In 1999, the Connecticut Energy Efficiency Fund (CEEF) was created to address Connecticut’s increasing energy needs and rising energy costs, while also educating consumers on how to use energy more wisely. Today, as part of that initiative, CL&P administers energy efficiency programs that the CEEF supports. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the Connecticut Quality Improvement Award Partnership (CQIA) have recognized CL&P’s programs for continued excellence. Connecticut continually receives top national rankings in the annual Energy Efficiency Scorecard for conservation and load management.

National deregulation, also commonly referred to as electric restructuring, began in the early 1990s. However, its roots date back to the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA) of 1978. This act allowed non-utility companies to build power generating facilities, laying the groundwork for deregulation as we know it today. Then, in 1992 the U.S. Congress passed the Energy Policy Act, removing many obstacles faced by companies trying to break into the energy generation market. Legislators felt that the Act would promote more competition in the market for power generation and would result in overall lower prices for customers.

In 1998, Connecticut began to deregulate when the state legislature passed a law to restructure the electric utility into three divisions: generation, transmission and distribution. On January 1, 2000, that law went into effect and CL&P no longer controlled the generation of power, as independent companies took ownership over the power plants. However, despite the loss of their generation ownership, CL&P and Northeast Utilities continued to oversee transmission and distribution through their substation facilities and power lines.

In the early 21st century, CL&P continued to adjust its business to comply with state and federal deregulation laws. From January 1, 2000 to December 31, 2003, CL&P operated under "Standard Offer service." This program guaranteed consumers a 10 percent rate reduction at a time when competition in the energy marketplace was still developing. However, the competitive market was slow to form and CL&P was forced to increase rates in order to cover increasing generation costs.

Due to an unprecedented demand for power across the state, CL&P continued to expand and upgrade its transmission systems. Construction of a new 345-kilovolt (kV) electric transmission line that stretched from Bethel to Norwalk (B-N) began in spring 2005. The 21-mile line was designed to improve the reliability of the region’s power supply and to reduce the amount of federally mandated congestion charges (FMCCs) that penalize customers when power is unable to move efficiently across the grid to where it is needed most. The line was energized in October 2006, two months ahead of schedule, and $15 million under budget. By 2007, the B-N line had already helped reduce congestion costs in Connecticut by over 60 percent.

Bethel NorwalkBethel-Norwalk Transmission Line Map 
Middletown NorwalkMiddletown-Norwalk Transmission Line Map 

Another transmission line project, stretching 69 miles from Middletown to Norwalk (M-N), was one of the largest electric infrastructure upgrades in the country. The construction of the M-N line, which began in spring 2006, was a joint effort between CL&P and The United Illuminating Company (UI), stretching through 18 Connecticut cities and towns. The project consisted of 45 miles of overhead and 24 miles of underground 345-kV lines, along with 57 miles of reconstructed 115-kV lines. The M-N line was energized in December 2008, almost a full year ahead of schedule. In 2009, NU won the Edison Award, the Edison Electric Institute’s highest honor, for its work on the Bethel to Norwalk and Middletown to Norwalk transmission projects.

CL&P strives to give back to the communities it serves by offering outreach programs in three main areas: economic and community development; environmental stewardship; and education and workforce development. CL&P sponsors the Connecticut Main Street Center (CMSC), a non-profit organization that helps cities and towns across the state revitalize their `main street’ districts, and provides the tools to transform these areas into thriving centers of commercial and social activity. CL&P employees have reached out to children in the community through their Electrical Safety School, which educates 36,000 fourth- and fifth-grade students in CL&P’s service territory each year.

Many of CL&P’s corporate contributions have been directed toward arts and culture organizations through its partnerships with the United Way and the Greater Hartford Arts Council. Employees at CL&P have taken advantage of many other personal volunteer opportunities as well. Through the `Dollars for Doers’ program, employees who volunteer at non-profit organizations can have that organization receive a grant from NU on their behalf. CL&P is also a title sponsor of the Special Olympics Connecticut Winter Games. The Special Olympics’ cross-country skiing and snowshoeing events have been hosted at CL&P’s Simsbury facility since 1991.

As CL&P looks to the future, we see significant growth in peak electric demand in Connecticut. In response, we are continually developing and implementing new initiatives to meet our 1.2 million customers’ ever-increasing and ever-changing needs.

For example, NU has proposed the region’s first network of charging stations for the new generation of plug in electric vehicles (EVs). Pending the receipt of a Department of Energy grant, CL&P and its sister company, WMECO, will construct 575 home-based, workplace and publically-accessible EV charging stations within their service territories.

Two new transmission projects are also in the works to not only meet our customers’ increasing needs, but to also provide a gateway to clean energy in New England. The first proposed project is a partnership between NU, NSTAR, and Hydro-Quebec (HQ) that would connect New England with the Canadian province of Quebec. Pending further legislative approval, the new line will use high voltage direct current (HVDC) technology to connect HQ’s hydroelectric system with NU’s 345-kV system in south central New Hampshire, enhancing the region’s energy efficiency and fuel diversity.

The New England East-West Solution (NEEWS) projects are another initiative to expand current transmission systems and improve reliability and performance for customers. Following the recommendations of ISO New England, the operator of New England’s bulk power system, the NEEWS project will create a more robust transmission system in southern New England. This project will enhance the system’s ability to move power across the New England grid and within Connecticut, while also providing customers with increased access to clean energy solutions.

NEEWS NewEngland Map of four NEEWS transmission
projects in New England

We continue to see ourselves as part of everyday life in Connecticut, as we have for the past 100 years. In this digital economy, we understand just how necessary it is for us to provide safe and reliable electric service to Connecticut’s homes, neighborhoods and businesses. The roots of CL&P are in Connecticut, and as we look to the future, we are committed to continuing our investment in the people and businesses of this region. We are actively working toward enhancing the region’s energy infrastructure to provide economic and environmental benefits to our customers. As we have since 1917, we will continue striving to develop as an energy solutions provider and an industry-leading company that is improving the environments our customers live in.