A New Beginning 1933 - 1940
The morning of July 1st 1933, a short ceremony was held at 25 High Street, to mark the passing of the ownership of the property from the company to the States. The cheque for £285,500 had been handed over in the Contract Court earlier that morning. When handing over the key of the premises to the president of the Board of Administration, the chairman of the company, Victor G. Carey, outlined the history of the undertaking since 1900. He pointed out that the company had laid some 98 miles of cable since then, unfortunately none in Torteval due to the opposition of the Natural Beauties Committee. To complete the ceremony the president of the Board of Administration passed the key to the president of the States Electricity Board, Frederick Hill-Cottingham.
The cheque for £285,500
This action was symbolic of the provisions of the 1933 Electricity Law. This had repealed the laws of 1898, 1917 and 1920, and required the States to deliver the undertaking to a committee of the States, named the Electricity Board, to hold in trust and administer on its behalf. The law also set out the constitution of the Board and gave it such trading and other powers as were necessary for the efficient conduct of the business. These included the power to dig up roads and to lay cables under or over them, subject to the regulations of the States Public Thoroughfares Committee. The rights and duties of the Board and the consumers were dealt with at some length, along with, as applicable, the appropriate remedy or penalty.
The main operational statistics of the undertaking at the date of take over were:
|Generating Plant Capacity||3.73 MW|
|Maximum Demand to date (1930)||1.7 MW|
|Load Factor (1932)||20%|
|Units Generated (1932)||3.35 MW hours|
|Units sold (1932)||2.36 MW hours|
The tariff in operation on June 30thwas:
|Flat Rate||Lighting||7d per unit|
|Heating- Churches||2¾d per unit|
|Private||3d per unit|
|Maximum Demand||First 4,000 units||3½d per unit|
|Next 40,000 units||3d per unit|
|Remainder||1½d per unit|
Even before the date of the take-over, the Board agreed to maintain the existing conditions of service of staff for a trial period of twelve months. After this period, the permanent conditions were approved. Three over age employees were retired and the remaining members of staff were retained on their existing salaries. Those, who by their age were eligible to participate in the States Pension Scheme, were included in it from July 1st 1933, whilst those who were ineligible, were awarded a personal allowance to compensate. Otherwise, the conditions of service, including pension rights, sick pay - first fourteen days on full pay - accident and holiday pay, were the same as for other States employees. The special condition whereby staff could purchase electrical materials and appliances at cost price plus 10% was continued. The concessionary rate of 1¼d per unit for electricity consumed in the homes of members of staff, was withdrawn and replaced by a special 20% discount on the public rate to those members of staff who were householders. The engineer and manager Major Barritt Hills, who was ineligible by age to join the States Pension Scheme, was awarded an agreed salary for the remaining 5 years term of his contract with Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company. The engineer and manager was authorised to approve the pay for weekly paid staff within the scales:
|Boys (starting at 16 years of age)||2 ½ d to 6d per hour|
|Improvers||6d to 1s 0d per hour|
|Journeymen||1s 0d to 1s 4d per hour|
The 3.73 MW of generating plant acquired by the Board comprised 1.8 MW of ac Diesel plant, 830 kilowatts of dc gas-fired plant and 1.1 MW of dc Diesel generating sets. The distribution network comprised 165 km of underground and overhead cable, and 8 sub-stations. The meter section, accounts and administration, the showroom and the contracting section were all equipped to the standard necessary for them to operate efficiently. The Board was financed with a loan from the States of £306,000, this being the agreed purchase price of £285,500 plus £20,500 working capital. The loan was re-payable at the end of 30 years and attracted interest at the rate of 3¾% per annum.
With the acquisition of the undertaking by the States, the functions of the old Electric Lighting Committee, established under Section 14 of the 1898 Law were absorbed into those of the SEB, consequently, with effect from July 1st 1933, the committee ceased to exist. There remained to be settled, however, the position of the installation inspector, William Habgood had been carrying out the duties, but his substantive appointment within the States organisation was Chief Lighthouse Attendant with the Board of Administration, a post from which he was due to retire in 1933. It was therefore decided that a full time inspector should be appointed on the staff of the SEB, to carry out the duties of inspecting all new electrical installations regardless of who carried out the work.
In the second half of the year 1933 the depression was less severe. Memories of the pressure on the previous owners, to reduce charges particularly for power, were fresh in the minds of the members of the Electricity Board. It is not surprising, therefore, that they decided at an early date to revise the tariff. The first meeting of the members agreed that there was an urgent need to reassure the public that the Board was treating the subject of the tariff as a matter of high priority. The Guernsey Electricity Light and Power Company, in an effort to retain the concession, had promised a reduction of 10% in the tariffs and the public was obviously expecting some reduction from the new Board. The first few months were taken up with research into the basic structure of tariffs, and in November 1933 proposals were put to the States for a comprehensively revised set of charges comprising Flat Rate and Two-Part Tariffs. When these arrangements were debated in the States they were not universally welcomed, it being accepted that there would be winners and losers amongst the consumers. Nevertheless the proposals were accepted and the following tariffs came into effect on January 1st 1934:
Flat Rate Tariff
|Lighting||First 250 units per quarter||6½d per unit|
|Units in excess of 250 per quarter||6d per unit|
|Heating and Cooking||First 250 units per quarter||2½d per unit|
|Units in excess of 250 per quarter||2d per unit|
|Special Heating Rate||1½d per unit|
(Applicable only to Churches, Chapels, Hospitals, Schools and Parochial Buildings.)
|Power||First 5,000 units per quarter||2½d per unit|
|Next 5,000 units per quarter||2¼d per unit|
|Next10,000 units per quarter||2d per unit|
|Next10,000 units per quarter||1¾d per unit|
|Remainder of units per quarter||1½d per unit|
Meter rent between 2s and 5s per quarter, depending on the meter capacity.
Domestic Premises: Fixed Charge per quarter depending on external base area, varying from,
|700 sq.ft. (Minimum)||£2 5s 0d||per quarter to|
|1,600 sq.ft||£5 12s 6d||per quarter|
|Larger Areas, add||6s 0d||per quarter|
|All units||1½d each|
Business Premises. Fixed Charge per quarter, 25s per 100 watts of lamp, minimum £6, plus £3per annum for each Horse Power.
|All units||1½d each|
At the end of 1934, the statistics for the year showed an increase in units generated from 3.3 million in 1933 to 3.9 million. Revenue and expenditure figures for the first year under the new regime and the new tariff were encouraging and the Board proposed further general reductions in the tariff for 1935. In particular the unit charge under the two-part tariff was reduced from 1½d to 1¼d. A booklet, entitled 'The Magic of Electricity', was published to accompany the announcement of the new tariff. This thirty-two page brochure contained several pages of advertisements from electrical contractors and shops selling electrical and associated appliances. Its main thrust however, was to promote the use of electricity by advising the public on the range of equipment available, and ways of making the best use of it. Another section contained hints on planning the wiring of houses to obtain the best results from the installation, for example, in the positioning of switches. Altogether it was a practical booklet, and contained much useful information for prospective consumers.
Further downward revisions of the tariffs came into force from the beginning of 1936. The flat-rate lighting charge was reduced to 5½d per unit and the unit charge on the two-part tariff fell to 1d per unit. The beginning of 1937 saw yet further reductions, the two-part tariff fixed charge was reduced and a new unit charge of ¾d was introduced for the summer months.
The question arises as to how the Board was able to reduce tariffs so significantly over such a short period. It was only some thirteen years earlier, that the company had been unable to meet the demands of the stone trade, for a reduction in price of 1d per unit. To illustrate the effects of the new tariffs, in 1926, when discontent with the tariff was beginning to grow, Mowlem's Quarry paid £3,586 for 329,000 units at an average cost of 2.6d. The same number of units at the tariff applicable in 1939 would have cost about 1.7d each, resulting in a saving of at least £1,000.
A number of factors contributed to this change of which the cost of capital, used in the conduct of the business, played a prominent part. When, in 1898, the concession was awarded, generating electricity for a public supply was a relatively high-risk venture. Debenture capital attracted interest at the rate of 5%, and the target for dividends on ordinary share capital was 10%. By contrast, in the nineteen-thirties, the States' loan to the Board for the purchase of the undertaking, and for subsequent loans for expansion of plant and the distribution system, carried interest at the rate of 3¾%. It is also relevant to note in this context that the Board did not adopt the Plender formula for calculating depreciation. Instead, it continued putting aside each year whatever it could afford, while bearing in mind the need to reduce the value of each asset to nil at the end of its useful life.
Increased efficiency in the generating section, coupled with the rapid growth in sales, also played a significant role in creating conditions that allowed the tariffs to be reduced. The policy, started in 1910, to utilise Diesel engines in place of coal burning plant was reaching its ultimate target during the thirties, the last units to be generated from coal were produced in 1938. This not only lowered the fuel costs but also the wages bill for coal handling and operating staff, and the cost of plant repairs. The overall effect was to cut the cost of generating a unit of electricity by one half. At the same time the number of consumers more than trebled between 1926 and 1939, raising sales from less than three million units a year to seven million. Overhead charges were not increased by a significant sum, and therefore were spread over a greater number of units.
It is more difficult to quantify the value of the stimulus resulting from the change of ownership of the undertaking. Justified or not, the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company had become very unpopular with a large section of the population. It was reported that during the debate in the States in June 1932, one member remarked that 'the people feel incensed against the company.' The change of ownership introduced a honeymoon period, which the Board was quick to take advantage of by taking early action to defuse potential trouble spots. Its early revision of the tariffs served to improve customer relations, at the same time, by quickly approving conditions of service for staff, it showed its appreciation of the need for good industrial relations. The president Frederick Hill-Cottingham and manager Major Barritt Hills, appear to have established a good rapport at an early date, the strong leadership they gave to the Board and to the staff, played a vital role in making the early years of the new organisation a success.
The introduction of ac plant, to replace both generating and distributing equipment, was well advanced by May 1934. However, the 1933 law still required the Board to provide a dc supply on request. This provision had the potential to cause embarrassment, therefore the Board arranged to have it rescinded to enable the work of changing consumers to alternating current to proceed. A Royal Court Ordonnance of 1934 authorised the Board, where appropriate, to discontinue the dc supply at 210-240 volts, and to provide an ac 50 cycle, single-phase supply at 230 volts or alternatively a three-phase 400 volts supply. At the end of the year a number of premises in the Forest and St. Andrew's had been changed over, and in the following year a start was made in St. Martin's.
The additional plant needed to meet the growing demand from more and more consumers involved the expenditure of large amounts of capital, on both mains and on generating sets. From the date of take-over to the end of 1939 some 110 km of mains were installed, bringing the total to 270 km of which some 60 km were high voltage. At the same time the number of substations increased from eight to twenty-five with four high voltage switching stations.
The total amount of money invested in the distribution network, including services and meters, was, at the end of 1939, approximately £165,000. The work carried out included extensions from the Trinity Square substation to the High Street substation with extensions from Lower Bordage to Church Square and a feeder to Tower Hill. There was also a link to Morley with a feeder to Les Hubits. During the following year, in order to reinforce the network in the north of the island and along the west coast, a high voltage ring main was installed from the St Martin's substation to Pleinheaume via the Rohais, Les Rocquettes, Les Anneville and Les Houmet substations. In St Peter Port, a site for a substation at the Albert Pier was negotiated, the work was completed, and the substation brought into operation, in time for the winter of 1937. Still in St Peter Port and also in 1937 a feeder was laid from Upland Road to the Monument Gardens cinema.
The other parishes were not neglected. A major scheme, costing £30,000, was completed in 1938; it involved extensions and strengthening the network in areas from L'Islet to Perelle. The St Martin's substation was up-rated and converted to alternating current. In the Forest, the mains in Les Bigards area were extended. In the Vale, St Martin's, as well as St Peter Port, the parish authorities took advantage of the work being carried out to increase the number of streetlights.
By 1937 requests for new connections outstripped the resources available, which were beginning to feel the effects of the diversion of materials to munitions work in England. The Board responded by allocating priority to the work of installing services and minor mains extensions in areas where there was already a supply. Residents in some areas requested that overhead cables should be placed underground, but quite apart from material shortages, there were insufficient funds for this type of project and therefore, what money was available was used to extend the network into new areas. Two years later, in 1939, the shortage of materials forced the Board to stop work on all extensions to the distribution network. To obtain the maximum benefit from the limited stock of materials that were available, priority was given to services that would produce an economic return. It was becoming clear that war was a likely possibility, in which case supplies would be interrupted. As a precaution therefore stocks of essential materials were conserved for use if conditions worsened.
The winter of 1934/35 saw the maximum demand rise to 2.2 MW. This, together with the prospect of more increases to come, encouraged the Board in February 1935, to order additional generating plant. The plant ordered comprised a Willans-Fullagar 8Q type engine, made by the English Electric Co. of Rugby, capable of developing 2,000 bhp from 8 cylinders. It was connected to an ac alternator, with an output of 1,375 kilowatts at 6.6kV. The installation of this generating set necessitated extensions to the cooling system, and a new cooling tower with pump room and overhead tanks was constructed. The whole extension was commissioned in July 1936.
View of the 8Q Willans - Fullagar generating set alongside the Fraser Chalmers set installed in 1931
By late 1936 relations between Germany and its neighbours had deteriorated to the point at which the United Kingdom Government decided to give greater priority to its munitions programme, by diverting resources from non-military work to armaments. This caused delays in the delivery of plant ordered for civilian purposes and also increased prices. It was estimated that the delivery time for new plant had been extended from 12 to 18 months and, with this in mind, the Board decided to order more generating plant, this time a 6Q Fullagar-English Electric Diesel generator set rated at 1,030 kilowatts. To accommodate this within the precincts of the power station, a gas engine was dismantled and sold. A covered space was erected, in the first instance to provide a lay-down area for use when building the new generator, but ultimately to provide a sheltered area in which to carry out plant overhauls.
In the early months of 1937 the Mirrlees 410 kW generating set, that had been in continuous use for 10 years, suffered a major breakdown. The repairs necessary included erecting a new crankcase and six new cylinder jackets, as well as making modifications to the bedplate. The maximum demand during the winter of 1936/37 rose to nearly 3 MW. The plant available to meet this demand, if the largest item of plant was out of action, was 3.75 MW which included 875 kilowatts of old gas fired plant. It was forecast that by the following winter, after the new plant had been commissioned, and again without the largest item of plant, a load of 4.8 MW could be met. Looking further ahead to the winter of 1938/39, the maximum demand was forecast to be 4.5 MW. The situation up to that point was considered to be acceptable, but to meet the load in 1939/40 more plant would be needed.
The review of generating plant requirements in May 1938, led to a decision to dismantle and sell off the two remaining gas engines rated at 700 kilowatts and to place orders for two 6Q Fullagar Diesel generating sets together with auxiliary plant. One of these was to be commissioned by the winter of 1939/40 and the other a year later. In order to implement this decision, it was necessary to build an extension to the power station to accommodate the two sets.
The first of these generators was delivered on time, but the second was delayed due to the priority given to munitions work for the national defence programme. The manufacturer promised delivery for the spring of 1941, however events in the form of a world war overtook this, and the British Government requisitioned the generator for the munitions programme; it was not until 1949 that this second generator was finally installed. With the introduction of the English Electric generating plant there was improved reliability, and a considerable reduction in the cost of production. The annual table of Working Costs of Diesel Generating Stations published by the Diesel Engineers Users Association, showed Guernsey Electricity in sixth place in the 1937/38 table, and in second place the following year.
The de-commissioning of the last two gas generating sets in 1938, brought to an end the period during which electricity was generated from coal. From this point until the end of the century all units were generated from oil and this, coupled with a substantial increase in the number of units sold, significantly raised the quantity of oil used. As a result it was possible to negotiate better discounts on fuel purchases. The negotiating position of the Board had already been strengthened in 1935 when extra oil storage tanks were built. This enabled the supplier, the Shell Mex-BP Company, to bring in larger ships with cargoes of oil fuel up to 750 tons. At the request of the suppliers oil was also made available to the brewery, Sark Motor Ships, and the Shell BP depot in Guernsey. The total annual consumption of fuel oil was by this time 2,000 tons. The contract for the supply of oil fuel expired in 1938. This provided the opportunity to invite quotations from a number of suppliers, again Shell BP put forward the best price, 37/8d per gallon. This price was dropped to 33/8d in mid 1939, but the time during which advantage could be taken of it was limited as, on the outbreak of hostilities between Great Britain and Germany, the contract price was abandoned and the price varied with each cargo.
In 1938 a complaint was received that oil was leaking into St Sampson's harbour from the 4" pipeline, that connected the discharge point on the North quay to the storage tanks. Investigations revealed that the work of laying the Vale deep drainage out-fall, and other road works, had disturbed the soil causing the joints to leak. These leaks had been repaired to the extent that, provided the ship purged the pipeline of oil, by pumping air through it after each discharge, there would be no oil remaining in the pipe. On one occasion a ship, new to this route, did not carry out the correct procedure which resulted in the escape of the oil left in the pipe.
The number of consumers nearly doubled to 5,774 during the first six years that the States' owned the undertaking. The units generated each year improved even more, rising from 3.3 to 6.9 million. This expansion was accompanied by an increase in the activities of the commercial department. To take full advantage of the expenditure on mains extensions and services the marketing of appliances became more aggressive. Agency agreements were entered into with appliance manufacturers, who arranged cooking demonstrations and equipped domestic science classrooms at various schools on the island with electrical appliances.
Reduced rates for electricity were offered for illuminations for special events. On the occasion of the celebrations for the coronation of King George VI, on 15 January 1937, the States employed the contracting section to install a number of decorative lighting schemes to the value of £865. Two of these, for strip lighting at the White Rock jetty and St Julian's Weighbridge House, were made permanent features, whilst a third, a temporary scheme, floodlit Castle Cornet. For these three schemes electricity was supplied free of charge during the week of the festivities.
An additional showroom assistant increased the staff of the commercial department in 1935, and a Consumers Engineer, Mr. Len Fosbrooke, was appointed in the following year. In 1938 the Electrical Development Association in the United Kingdom arranged correspondence courses for sales staff. The Board agreed that its staff should participate, with the Board paying the course fees of candidates who successfully passed the examination and obtained the Domestic Electrical Salesmanship Certificate.
Following the installation of new plant at the Power Station, the oil purification system that consisted of a Streamline filter installed in 1926 was replaced in 1939 with a Stone Empson system. This process first coagulated the carbon particles in the oil and then removed them by centrifugal force. Enquiries had ascertained that this method had proved to be very reliable and effective. It also reduced the cost of running the plant and speeded up the purification process.
As early as September 1935 it was realised that the international situation could deteriorate into a European war. If this occurred it would be difficult to maintain the supply of electricity, specifically the limited fuel oil storage capacity caused concern. The Board agreed that an additional 500 tons tank was highly desirable, but that this would only be sufficient to meet the immediate needs of the undertaking. If it was considered likely that there would be a prolonged interference with supplies from the mainland, there would be a need for even more storage tanks to provide a strategic reserve, but this would be in the general interest of the public. As the expenditure on such a tank was not essential for operational requirements it was considered that the cost should be borne by the States.
In November 1936, as a result of the growing uncertainty in Europe the States formed the Air Raid Precautions (ARP) Committee. Early in 1938 this committee raised the matter of oil stocks, pointing out the importance of safeguarding essential supplies such as electricity. It was suggested that the Jersey authorities might be interested in a joint approach to the Home Office to discuss the question of strategic oil stocks. However, Jersey had made its own contingency plans so that it was not until the end of June 1938, that representatives from Guernsey and Jersey met representatives from the Board of Trade and Customs and Excise, at a conference at the Home Office. There it was considered that the six months supply already held in Guernsey was adequate unless the channel became completely blocked, since supplies would always be available well within this period. The view was expressed that, as it was necessary to keep the Channel open for the movement of troops it would never be closed for as long as six months. In the event of war oil tankers would be taken over by the British Government, the supply of oil would be strictly regulated, and Guernsey would be treated as a part of the United Kingdom for rationing purposes.
As the prospect of war became more likely preparations for it increased. On October 5th 1938, the day before Neville Chamberlain's 'Munich' speech, there was a blackout rehearsal in Guernsey. Nearly six months later, on March 22nd 1939, the States established the Committee for the Control of Essential Commodities. This committee was charged with the duty of making all preliminary arrangements for rationing those commodities as notified by the UK government.
In September 1939, when war broke out between Britain and Germany, precautions were taken against air attack at the power station by installing sandbags to protect vital sections and erecting overhead splinter protection. The glass roof of the engine room was sprayed and the windows screened to establish an almost complete blackout, creating gloomy working conditions for the staff. Bund walls were built around the oil storage tanks, and fire-fighting equipment was installed at critical points, with a 3-inch fire hydrant system in each of the engine halls.
When the budget for 1940 was being prepared the effect of the blackout on the sales of electricity was taken into consideration. It was decided that although there was no immediate need to adjust the tariffs to compensate for the fall in revenue, the situation had to be monitored closely. During the period January to August 1939 sales had increased by 10% over the previous year, but this increase quickly fell to less than 3% during the final four months.
In March 1940 the Board of Administration arranged for the installation of lights around St Sampson's Harbour, but in accordance with Home Office instructions, the scheme had to include the facility to instantly switch the lights off. On June 19th 1940, it was announced that the island was to be de-militarised. The RAF detachment had already left, and the army was removing the guns on the White Rock and was ready to leave. The possibility that the Germans would occupy the island had become a certainty and it was announced that, beginning immediately, those civilians who were not engaged in the maintenance of essential services would also be evacuated. Volunteers to remain in Guernsey to maintain the electricity supply were sought and, in response, the engineer and manager with thirty-five other staff members volunteered to stay. They comprised six supervisory staff, twelve from the power station, four from the mains department, three each from the meter and contracting sections and seven office staff. And so thirty-six staff remained to run the undertaking; in the previous year it had employed, on average, one hundred and seven.
During the evening of Friday June 28th the Luftwaffe bombed a number of tomato-laden lorries in St. Peter Port harbour, which they had mistakenly identified as military vehicles. The result was more than thirty deaths and a similar number of serious injuries. Two days later on Sunday June 30th the German forces landed in Guernsey.
St Peter Port Harbour on the evening of June 28th 1940