The City of Palo Alto is the only municipality in California that operates a full suite of City-owned utility services.
The City of Palo Alto Utilities' (CPAU) history began over one hundred years ago, in 1896, when the water supply system was first installed. Two years later, the wastewater or sewer collection system came on line in 1898. In 1900, the municipal electric power system began operation, followed in 1917 by a natural gas distribution system. Palo Alto is the only city in California to own and operate six essential utility services, including refuse and storm drain (operated out of Public Works). In 1996, Palo Alto ventured into a new endeavor with the construction of its dark fiber loop.
It was the forward thinking of two Stanford University professors, Charles "Daddy" Marx and Charles Benjamin Wing, who were largely responsible for the emergence of the municipally owned utility service in Palo Alto. Marx and Wing argued that the City could provide utility service at rates significantly below those charged by private companies. One of the founding principles of those early pioneers was that the utilities must show a financial return to the community. This has continued to be a priority. In the most recent fiscal year, the electric and gas utilities provided millions in financial support to community services such as libraries, parks, police and fire protection. These contributions to the community do not occur in areas served by private power companies. This makes Palo Alto a unique place to live and work.