Xcel Energy archives documenting history in TX Panhandle now preserved at PPHM

Xcel Energy archives documenting history in TX Panhandle now preserved at PPHM
The Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum says it's planning to revamp education at the museum to benefit all 26 counties in the Texas Panhandle. (Source: KFDA)

AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - The Xcel Energy Archives are now preserved at the Panhandle-Plains Historical Museum in Canyon thanks to WT’S Center for the Study of the American West.

The archive preserves material charting the history of Xcel Energy in the Texas Panhandle.

“Within these records is the story of how it came to be that most of the Panhandle is not on the Texas grid,” said Alex Hunt, director of CSAW.

Hunt collaborated with Wes Reeves of Xcel Energy to preserve a collection of materials for the PPHM archives, along with the help of student interns.

Sierra Villarreal and Daisa Brown, both CSAW interns, sorted and cataloged 35 boxes of archival material documenting the history of Xcel Energy and its predecessor company, Southwestern Public Service Co.

“This isn’t a dead and dusty archive – it’s a valuable source of information that we call upon often,” said Reeves, who has been caretaker of the company archive for more than 20 years. “As people come and go, we tend to lose institutional knowledge about our system and our communities, but the archive always remembers. And as we move into a new energy future, it’s vital to have an understanding of how we got here.”

The archive includes documents such as internal company communications, maps, photographs and marketing materials.

Representatives said the project was slowed due to COVID-19 restrictions, and students working on the project gained valuable lessons through the process.

“I gained a better understanding of how complex power companies can be and what goes into how we get our electricity, which we tend to take for granted,” Villarreal said. “I learned a great deal about the work of archiving materials. This is the best thing I have done in my undergraduate career at WT. If you want to understand history, you have to understand how that history gets made thanks to what documents are saved, and how they’re saved.”

Brown, a graduate student in environment science, said she found it interesting to discover how the company produced energy in its early days.

“In one photo of a carbon black camp, you can see the ash plume, which helped me in becoming aware of how that impacted the environment back then, but also how it’s still affecting us now,” Brown said.

Warren Stricker, director of the PPHM Research Center, said the archive will prove to be a valuable source material on the development of public utilities and the provision of electrical power to the Panhandle-Plains region.

“I think the records could be used in many ways, such as a study of technology, represented by the facilities and equipment used in delivering electricity; for an examination of design, as seen in the buildings and other structures built by the utility; for a history of corporate structure as it evolved over the last century; and, of course, as a source for the history of utilities in general and Xcel Energy and its predecessor companies in particular,” Stricker said.

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