Walk in the door of the Gold Creek powerhouse and turn to the left. You’ll see a teal-painted Pelton Wheel from 1914. It still turns, generating power for Juneau.
Turn to the right. You’ll see a row of hulking diesel generators, some originally built to serve submarines during World War II.
Look toward the far wall. There’s the “new” hydroelectric generator, installed when Eisenhower was president.
And finally, look up. Those wooden beams are older than World War I.
As Alaska Electric Light and Power continues a yearlong celebration of its 125th anniversary, it opened the doors of its oldest power plant to an open house on Friday. While the powerhouse hosts regular group tours, the open house offered a unique glimpse into the history of Juneau and of its power company.
“We’re proud of that (history) and we’re proud of the plant — honestly, we’re usually too busy to talk about it,” Christy Yearous, vice president of power generation for AEL&P.
The open house came as AEL&P took over Cope Park for an afternoon hot dog grill-fest that brought a line of sun-dappled spectators eager for lunch and a souvenir pint glass.
Connie Hulbert, AEL&P’s President and General Manager, was cutting open packages of hot dogs as she talked about the open house.
“It’s about the people,” she said, explaining the reason behind the picnic.
AEL&P’s official anniversary isn’t until September, but it’s trying to have fun with a year of events including a cookie party around Christmas, an elaborate float at the Fourth of July parade, and now the picnic.
Cope Park, with Gold Creek splashing nearby, was an auspicious location for a celebration.
Standing near Hulbert was Tim McLeod, who worked for 15 years as AEL&P’s general manager before Hulbert took over.
AEL&P is not only the oldest electrical utility in Alaska, it’s the oldest continuously operating corporation in the state.
“It was probably about here,” McLeod said, gesturing at the park, that AEL&P’s first electric power plant was built in 1894.
The demand on that waterwheel power plant grew, and within 20 years, the young company was ready for a new power plant. It built a flume to capture part of Gold Creek’s flow and dug a pipe to carry the water downhill to a new power plant at what was then the waterfront.
That new power plant is today’s Gold Creek powerhouse, now housed in an unassuming blue-gray building near Foodland IGA.
The technology behind that flume and power house hasn’t changed in the ensuing years, even if some of the controlling equipment has been updated, Hulbert said.
“I’ve been here for 17 years, and it honestly hasn’t changed much,” Yearous said in the plant.
Since it was built, the Gold Creek power plant has been overtaken by others in AEL&P’s grid. There’s the Salmon Creek dam, the Annex Creek lake tap, and the hydro power plant at Snettisham.
Today, Gold Creek supplies just 1 percent of Juneau’s annual power needs, but as Yearous explained, there’s no reason to turn it off or replace it: It still works, and works well, with no air pollution or harm to fish.
“With hydro, why would you want to stop?” she asked.