Upon completion in 1897, the Pioneer Power Plant became a technological wonder, as it was the largest and most sophisticated power plant in Utah and perhaps the Western United States.
Utah’s first hydroelectric plant was constructed by the Ogden City Electric Company in 1883. It supplied direct current to a few private customers in Ogden and nine city lights, but the next year high water partially destroyed the building. By 1887, it had been rebuilt in Ogden Canyon. This plant was replaced in 1890 by a steam plant at 23rd Street and Wall.
In 1893, the Pioneer Electric Power Company was incorporated with leading Ogdenites at its helm: George Q. Cannon, Fred J. Kiesel, and Frank J. Cannon. Although its primary purpose was to generate power, the company was organized for a variety of purposes. The company provided irrigation water and eventually built a sugar factory in Ogden to process sugar beets. They contracted with Rhodes Brothers of Denver to construct a pipeline to carry water from Ogden River to the plant. Four work camps were established to house and feed the nearly 500 men who worked on the project; even a hospital was provided. The pipeline was 31,600 feet long, required eight tunnels through solid rock, and included eight steel bridges. A contract was awarded to William Fisher in 1896 to build the power house and a transmission line was built leading to Salt Lake City and surrounding area.
The nation was in an economic recession during construction but a multimillionaire from Rhode Island, Joseph Bannigton, invested 1.5 million dollars to the cause. Charles K. Bannister of New York was the lead architect and engineer on this project, as well as a partner of the Pioneer Electric Power Company.
The overall size of the Pioneer Plant, along with its other design features, attracted a great deal of national attention. National engineering journals published numerous articles on the facility. In 1897, Henry Goldmark, an engineer for the Pioneer Electric Power Company, delivered a paper describing the plant at the annual convention of the American Society of Civil Engineers. A panel discussion followed Goldmark's presentation, during which one of the commentators, engineer Arthur L. Adams, stated that the Pioneer Plant "easily takes front rank among the high-pressure water-power developments and long-distance transmission plants in this country."
Industrial growth failed to materialize. Surplus power became a nuisance to the company. In 1897, all companies serving the Salt Lake City and Ogden areas were consolidated into the Union Light & Power Company. These included the Ogden and Salt Lake Gas & Electric companies, the Citizens’ Electric Light Co., the Big Cottonwood Power Co. and the Little Cottonwood Water Power and Electric Co. In 1899, the company was reorganized into the Utah Light & Power Company and in 1904, it became the Utah Light & Railway Company.
In 1906, W.H. Harriman purchased the company and spent millions rebuilding plants and transmission lines. The Utah Light & Railway Company built the Weber plant near the mouth of Weber Canyon.The architecture of the Pioneer powerhouse, reminiscent of the Italian Renaissance style, was a fitting symbol of the Pioneer Electric Power Company's prominence. Along with the powerhouse, the station included a brick shop and a large residence for the plant superintendent.
After 1900, the Pioneer Plant underwent some important alterations. In 1913, new Francis-type reaction turbines were installed in the powerhouse. At the same time, an addition was built on the south side of the powerhouse to house switches and transformers which this equipment was later moved outside. In 1920, Utah Power and Light erected several new dwellings for the plant operators. By 1925, at least eight men worked at the powerhouse, which required constant monitoring.
On a smaller scale, the Pioneer Power Plant is particularly significant to Ogden as it was the city's main source of electricity. On a larger sclae, the plant is significant to Utah as it provided a template for other power plants and helped service Salt Lake City with power. Upon completion the Pioneer Power Plant became a technological wonder, as it was the largest and most sophisticated power plant in Utah and perhaps the Western United States.
The Pioneer Power Plant is still a functioning part of Utah’s energy suppliers. Owned and operated by PacifiCorp, it is one of the most reliable forms of renewable energy for Utahns. The power plant is currently being fed water from the Pineview Reservoir, located 6 miles east of the plant itself. Water coming to the power plant is also diverted to help irrigate areas in Weber and Box Elder Counties.
In 1989, the plant and its surrounding complex of buildings were nominated to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the first alternating current plants in the West. Some of the first high-voltage transmission experiments in the world were conducted at the plant.