The Folsom Powerhouse Provided Electricity to Sacramento for 57 Years
The Folsom Powerhouse was built in the late 19th century using prison labor from the iconic Folsom Prison. It delivered electricity to Sacramento County from 1895 to 1952. Located in eastern Sacramento County near the banks of the American River where the waterway was dammed to form Folsom Lake, the Folsom Powerhouse was one of the nation’s first alternating current (AC) hydroelectric power stations and is now a 35-acre State Historic Park..
Backstory and Context
The construction and operation of the Folsom Powerhouse was a noteworthy step in the technological advancement of Sacramento, California, and even the entire United States because before it started churning out AC power, just about every electrical power house in the nation produced steam-engine generated direct current (DC) electricity, which could only be used very close to where it was generated. AC, on the other hand, was able to be used far away from where it was generated through the use of transformers.
The Folsom Powerhouse used the rushing waters of the American River to turn its turbines which its AC generators used to make AC electricity. This electricity was transmitted to Sacramento, more than 22 miles westward, via one of the lengthiest electrical distribution lines in the nation. At the time, the electricity produced by this powerhouse was perhaps the most economical electricity in the country.
The switch of the Folsom Powerhouse was flipped off in 1952 when the original Folsom Dam was demolished so that a larger dam could take its place. The newer dam has its own hydroelectric plant.