Tucked away in the pastoral East Tennessee river valley, a once-rural electric company is widely recognized today as one of the region’s preeminent multi-service utility providers with the well-earned reputation for going the extra mile.
LCUB was formed in 1938, when Lenoir City signed a contract with the fledgeling Tennessee Valley Authority to offer TVA-supplied electricity to its residents and businesses. The tiny electric department had four employees and 317 customers. By the mid-1940s, LCUB’s services expanded to include water and sewer under the authority of a newly created Water and Light Commission with citizen oversight.
It was during this period that LCUB clearly demonstrated its commitment to support the broader region, working diligently to build a power distribution network for the neighboring West Knox County community. By 1945, LCUB had expanded its service area well into West Knox County and north into the Solway at the Anderson County border. LCUB also invested heavily to improve the water system and build an additional reservoir, and shortly thereafter added a natural gas distribution system to its utility services.
Through the years, LCUB has continued to do whatever it takes to provide the highest quality services, using the most advanced technology to meet the utility needs of its growing customer base at the lowest possible rates. Today, that’s approximately 62,500 electric customers in a four-county service region, plus 8,775 water customers, 5,900 natural gas customers and 5,150 wastewater customers, making LCUB the eighth largest utility among the 155 TVA distributors.
History of LCUB
The Early Years: 1938 and 1939
Electric Power arrived in Lenoir City in the early 20th century and was provided by the Lenoir City Light & Power Company. In 1924, the Tennessee Electric Power Company (TEPCO) purchased LCL&P and created a larger distribution network for commercial and residential customers in the city. By the end of the 1920s, there were about 100 commercial and residential customers, almost equally divided, who received electric power from TEPCO.
In the 1920s and 1930s, many citizens across the United States and members of Congress believed that a privately-held power monopoly existed and that electricity should be provided for everyone through government regulation. This paved the way for the TVA Act of 1933, part of President Roosevelt's New Deal.
TVA was formed in 1933, but it wasn't until February 28, 1938 that Lenoir City signed a contract with TVA to offer TVA-supplied electricity to its residents and businesses. Later that year, the city transferred the electric system to the newly formed electric department for a consideration of $30,000.
On August 19, 1938, LCUB started providing electric power supplied from TVA to customers within the city. At the end of 1938, the electric department had 317 customers and 4 employees. Between 1938 and 1939, the city sold $272,000 of municipal bonds to purchase the Lenoir City assets of the Tennessee Electric Power Company. At the end of 1939, the customer base had grown to 1,766 and the recently formed department employed 12 people.
During the same time, the city also offered water and sewer services. In 1925, a series of major improvements were implemented where three-foot sections of clay tile pipe were installed throughout the city for areas that allowed gravity flow to septic systems along Town Creek. The solids were stored in tanks and gray water was allowed to flow directly into the creek.
This septic system continued to operate for more than 40 years. Subsequent legislation in 1939 authorized an additional $100,000 to improve the water and sewer services to residents.
Expansion and Helping Neighbors: The 1940s and 1950s
Affordable public power generated by TVA and distributed by LCUB through the 1940s and 1950s continued to stimulate economic growth in Lenoir City. In 1941, the city's charter was amended to create a Water and Light Commission composed of three citizens and taxpayers in Lenoir City to manage the operations of the utilities. This same amendment also transferred the water works (water and sewer) assets to the Utilities under the authority of the Commission. In 1943, the Commission was later expanded to four residents to adequately represent the growing service area of the Utilities Board.
The Commission had tremendous foresight and saw the need to provide electricity to neighbors in rural west Knox County. During these two decades, LCUB worked diligently to build a power distribution network in west Knox County while ensuring that Loudon County customers' needs were still served.
During this time, rural residents of west Knox County were now able to enjoy affordable and convenient electric service. By 1945, LCUB had expanded into west Knox County as far north as the Solway community adjacent to the Anderson County border and as far east as the West Hills area.
In 1946, LCUB invested $75,000, financed by municipal bonds, to make improvements to the water system. Some of these improvements included purchasing general use materials, building an additional reservoir, and making extensions and repairs to the overall system.
LCUB's expanded customer base prompted the need for additional office space and facilities to house an expanding workforce and equipment for the utilities. In 1947, the city authorized $225,000 of municipal bonds to construct a municipal office building.
After authorizing additional funds in the early 1950s and locating suitable property on which to build a new facility, LCUB broke ground on its new offices in 1955 and completed the project in July of 1956 at a cost of $255,437. LCUB's current Administrative Offices are still housed in this building.
LCUB issued $290,000 of municipal bonds to build a natural gas distribution system in 1950. The initial system was completed and accepted customers in 1951. During 1952, the Water, Light, and Gas Commission offered its first incentives program to help grow its newly formed Gas Department. Customers could receive rebates for up to $10 for newly purchased gas ranges and $15 for newly purchased gas water heaters.
Additional changes and growth occurred during 1952. The Water, Light, and Gas Commission was renamed to Lenoir City Utilities Board. The 6,000th electric customer connected to the LCUB system on January 23, 1952 and there were approximately 300 gas customers by the end of the year.
A massive, early snowstorm occurred in late November of 1952 and created one of the more notable events of the year. Reports indicate that LCUB employees worked nonstop for over three days to restore power for customers and only had six total hours of sleep during that timeframe. This snowstorm still holds the daily snowfall record for Lenoir City and the Knoxville metropolitan area.
At the end of 1959, LCUB had 7,920 electric customers, 820 natural gas customers, and 1,686 water customers.
Decades of Change: The 1960s and 1970s
The 1960s sparked a huge electrical expansion for LCUB as Lenoir City and, especially, west Knox County experienced tremendous growth. Another rebate program was implemented in 1961: one that offered a bonus of $25 per ton for the installation of new residential heat pumps. This provided a huge incentive for customers to convert to a modern heating system that provided reliable, consistent, and comfortable heating for their homes.
LCUB also took advantage of recent innovation and purchased its first bucket truck that had a boom of up to 52 feet high. Not only did this allow LCUB crews to work more quickly, it also added a substantial level of safety. A new hole digging truck equipped with an auger to dig holes for poles was also purchased. These two innovative equipment purchases allowed LCUB employees to completely set a pole in under 10 minutes - work that previously took hours to complete.
The Water Department experienced growth during this time as well. A new water plant was built in 1960 to support new growth and increased water quality and environmental regulations. Shortly after completion, the Tennessee Department of Public Health recognized LCUB as one of the best quality water systems in Tennessee with a score of 98.
In 1964, LCUB celebrated its 25th anniversary supplying TVA power to residents of Lenoir City and west Knox County. A four page advertisement was purchased in the Lenoir City News Banner and ran on August 27. The advertisement contained an impressive tribute to the economic success and advancement of LCUB's service area based on receiving cheap, reliable electricity generated by TVA.
The end of the 1960s escorted additional improvements to the overall utilities system, including huge electrical expansion in west Knox County and a large expansion of gas service to north of Lenoir City in the Eaton's Cross Roads and adjacent areas. LCUB also purchased its first cash register to install a more accurate and easy-to-manage payments and accounting system.
Environmental regulations from the State of Tennessee in the 1960s provided corrective action to prevent raw sewage from directly draining into Tennessee's waterways. Municipalities and privately-owned sewer systems took action to stop polluting creeks and rivers. In response to this, LCUB constructed its first Sewer Treatment Plant in 1968.
The plant provided environmentally-safe sewer service to 1,730 commercial and residential customers of Lenoir City. Along with the treatment plant, five sewer lift stations and additional intercepting sewer lines were constructed. The total cost of the improvements was almost $1.5 million.
At the end of 1969, LCUB had 11,661 electric customers, approximately 2,000 water customers, approximately 1,800 sewer customers, and 1,348 natural gas customers.
Additional system growth occurred throughout the 1970s, some of which was fueled by the OPEC crisis. During the 1950s and 1960s, natural gas prices were very low due to federal price regulating legislation and US Supreme Court decisions. This created a large demand for it, but the OPEC crisis fueled an even larger demand. Because prices were fixed at a low rate, customers flocked to natural gas as an alternative to oil. LCUB added many natural gas customers during this time and experienced shortages from its suppliers. Because of the supplier shortages, LCUB was not able to supply natural gas to some customers during this time.
In 1978, LCUB installed a centralized computer system to electronically manage customer and billing data. LCUB's service area continued to grow and millions of dollars were invested into infrastructure. In 1979, LCUB participated in TVA's initial rollout of a Residential Heat Pump Program that provided affordable and convenient financing for customers to purchase heat pumps for their homes.
In 10 short years at the end of 1979, LCUB's electric department had almost doubled in size to 21,063 customers. The water department had grown to 2,349 customers, wastewater boasted over 2,000 customers, and the gas department had 1,544.
Electronics and Efficiency: The 1980s and 1990s
In March 1983, LCUB opened its first satellite office. The Cedar Bluff Customer Service Center, located on Cedar Bluff Road in Knoxville, is still located in the same building and serves customers in west Knox County.
In 1989, LCUB purchased a computerized system to test every electric meter in the system for accuracy. Meters were changed out and all meters, including new inventory, were cleaned and tested. This allowed LCUB to better control inventory and to ensure customers were billed accurately for electric service.
In the spring of 1991, LCUB finished construction on a new vehicle maintenance garage that allowed it to service and maintain its own fleet. In that same year, it also implemented an electronic SCADA system that automatically controlled the distribution line capacitors by radio signals. By optimizing the amount of capacitors placed in service, LCUB lowered its power distribution line loss. Additionally, engineers could better detect problems and provide quicker responses to power outages.
A similar SCADA system was implemented in 1993 for the Water Department. This allowed operators to constantly monitor reservoirs and treatment facilities to ensure that LCUB's drinking water was high quality and exceeded the State of Tennessee's regulations.
Additionally, it provided a proactive approach to resolving problems; if a leak or other problem occurred, operators were notified much quicker than before and could work quickly to minimize any leaks or water loss.
In 1995, LCUB opened its second satellite Customer Service Center. Located adjacent to the LCUB Administrative Offices in Lenoir City, this facility provided a convenient and easily accessible location for Lenoir City customers to use to establish service or make bill payments. It also provided much needed office space due to the overall growth of the utilities.
During 1995, LCUB added its 40,000th electric customer, a substantial growth from the 347 electric customers served during its first year of operations in 1938.
On September 10, 1998, LCUB hosted a joint celebration with TVA to commemorate 60 years of service to Lenoir City and west Knox County.
Growth during the 1980s and 1990s and the need for additional wastewater processing capacity fueled more large-scale improvements to LCUB's wastewater treatment facilities.
In September 1999, the Board approved a capital reserve fee to allow LCUB to accumulate infrastructure capital to finance future water and wastewater projects. This was the beginning of a multi-year plan to modernize LCUB water and wastewater facilities as well as provide the much needed capacity to continue to serve Lenoir City customers and to comply with more stringent state regulations.
New residential construction during the 1990s and a much more widely available supply of natural gas more than doubled the number of LCUB natural gas customers during these two decades. At the end of 1999, LCUB had almost 45,000 electric customers and 3,980 natural gas customers.
LCUB Today: The 2000s and 2010s
After years of planning and securing capital, LCUB embarked on a five year wastewater upgrade plan. Starting in 2006, LCUB invested in a $20 million project to upgrade its Wastewater Treatment Plant and collection system to comply with TDEC to ensure clean waterways and meet strict regulatory requirements. The wastewater system needed major improvements to continue serving our growing area.
During this initiative, LCUB focused on two major areas: upgrading the current wastewater treatment plant and inspecting, rehabilitating, and upgrading the existing collection system.. In 2011, LCUB finished the upgrades to the wastewater infrastructure and continues to upgrade existing facilities to ensure the needs our our customers are met and to protect the environment and natural ecosystem in Loudon County.
In December 2000, LCUB acquired Dixie Lee Utility District through a merger, adding approximately 2,000 additional water customers to the LCUB system. This expanded LCUB's water services into northern Loudon County, outside of Lenoir City's corporate limits.
In 2005, LCUB completed a third satellite Customer Service Center, located in Farragut, to provide a more convenient location to customers in west Knox County.
During this same time, LCUB invested millions of dollars into an automated meter reading system (AMR). The new AMR provided an automated way for meters to send daily electricity usage via long-range radio frequencies to a centralized computer system to automate billing, ensure accuracy, and provide proactive issue notification. In 2012, the Gas and Water Departments installed an AMR to benefit from the same efficiencies as the Electric Department.
During the mid 2000s, LCUB became a TVA Generation Partner. This program allows customers in the LCUB service area to install a renewable electricity generation resource to produce electricity that feeds back into the TVA electric grid.
Green energy production and consumption became much more widespread during this timeframe with several LCUB customers opting to participate in TVA's Green Power Switch. This program allows LCUB customers to support TVA-produced renewable energy by purchasing blocks of green power.
Today, LCUB serves approximately 60,000 electric customers in a three county service region, 8,500 water customers, 5,600 natural gas customers, and 4,800 wastewater customers. The electric department has $158,000,000 in assets, the water and wastewater departments have $54,000,000 in assets, and the gas department has $9,000,000 in assets.
From its modest beginning in 1938 through today, LCUB remains committed to providing our customers with reliable and affordable utility services. As the sixth largest municipal utility in Tennessee, LCUB has invested millions of dollars into its infrastructure to continue to provide essential services to customers in Lenoir City, Loudon County, west Knox County, and Roane County. Despite all of the changes that have occurred through our long history, our focus and commitment to our community, customers, and employees remains consistent and strong.