The Coal Era 1900-1910
During the period from commissioning, to the end of 1910, all units supplied by Edmundsons were generated from coal. Over the decade, generating capacity was increased from 150 kilowatts to 870 kilowatts and the number of units generated each year went up from 65,000 to 1¾ million. The main battery installation was first charged on March 20th 1900 thus allowing the undertaking to begin its objective of maintaining a twenty-four hour supply. In consequence of this, sales began to grow. In April the maximum demand had been 41 kW, but by June it had grown to 59 kW, with sales running at 2,600 units per day. The generating plant was being operated on 4 days each week, two days being allocated to battery charging. On May 1st the first complaint about emissions from the power station was recorded. Mr. Druce explained that the cart carrying Welsh anthracite could not get through the entrance gate to Les Amballes, therefore he had to use house coal, which could be delivered in bags. The problem was quickly overcome, and an acceptable level of emission was established.
Even before the official opening a decision had been taken to increase the capacity of Les Amballes power station by the addition of a third steam generating set. This time it was to be a Bellis&Morcom 3-crank triple expansion steam engine developing 270 BHP and connected to a Parker 2-pole Dynamo rated at 180 kilowatts. This addition had the effect of increasing the generating capacity of the power station to 330 kilowatts.
In June 1901 Mr Arthur Bird, succeeded Mr. Druce in the post of resident engineer and manager. Arthur Bird had started his career as an apprentice at the engineering works of the Taff Vale Railway, and following a course at Faraday House, had gained experience with the City and South London Electric Railway Company, the Cardiff Corporation Generating Station and Bristol Corporation Electricity Department.
Towards the end of the same year it became apparent that the load in the north of the island would increase considerably. The demand from Griffith's stone yard was expected to go up to 170 kilowatts and the demand from other sites to rise by a further 85 kilowatts. To meet this anticipated demand, at Les Amballes a fourth generator similar to number three was installed, but this time it was fitted with a Parker 2-pole H.T. dynamo.
The two compound steam engines at Les Amballes power station in 1903
The switchboard at Les Amballes was expanded, a cooling tower added on the flat roof and the existing building was extended with the addition of three bays.
To accommodate the additional load, feeder cables were laid to a substation at St Sampson's. They transmitted dc power at 2,500 - 2,650 volts via two copper conductors, each of 0.3sq.in. cross-sectional area. They were insulated with vulcanised bitumen and supported on wooden bridges in a cast iron trough. (Evidence of this cable system was discovered during excavations, along Les Banques, when connecting high voltage cables to the Belle Greve Pumping Station substation in 1970). Construction of the feeder was started early in 1902. At St Sampson's substation, which was built in the garden of Dr Leale, the voltage was converted to 420 volts via two rotary transformers, of 52kW and 105kW capacity respectively. The substation also contained a battery room to accommodate 212 cells.
The first substation to be commissioned in 1903 at St Sampson's. Situated at the western end of the area that was later occupied by the power station
By 1902 it had become clear that the demand for power from the quarry industry would develop even further, so that a generating station in the north, closer to the centre of demand, became necessary. In February, the States Electric Lighting Committee applied to the Royal Court for permission to build a power station at St Sampson's which would be erected at the eastern end of Dr Leale's property, fronting onto Northside and close to the Hougue Jehannet. The chimney of Dr Leale's house can just be seen over the roof pitch to the left of the picture.
First phase of St Sampson's Power Station viewed from the Hougue Jehannet end
The Royal Court approved the plan, which had the support of the consultant, on 28th February 1903.
The project consisted of a building containing two Daniell Gas Producers, with vertical boilers fired with anthracite peas, feeding two Campbells 4-crank vertical gas engines, each providing 320 BHP to a Parker six-pole dynamo with an output of 180 kilowatts.
First gas engine, installed at St Sampson's 1904
This brought the generating capacity of the combined stations to 870 kilowatts. Ryde in the Isle of Wight was the only other station in the Edmundsons group that, at that time, was using producer gas engines. As the name implies producer gas was made on site. Air in combination with a steam jet was forced over anthracite heated in a furnace. The gas produced was washed, scrubbed and partially cooled and was then ready for use. Burning producer gas instead of coal to raise steam had two great advantages. It allowed the plant to be brought on line much more quickly and was also cheaper. It was estimated that savings were as much as ½d per unit, and although the producer gas contained less heat than town gas, it was cheaper. The decision to install generating plant at St Sampson's was amply justified. By 1905 the stone quarries were exporting 300,000 tons of granite a year.
By this time the States had approved the construction of overhead lines to supply quarries, making it possible to use electric motors to crush the stone. Griffiths and Manuelle's yards each used motors totalling 400 horsepower and Mowlem's Quarry had motors of half that capacity.
Unfortunately, in the early stages, the benefits of the extra plant were partially offset by the problems that were experienced in running it. These reached a high point in February 1910 when eight special repairs had to be made. Overall the situation became so bad that one of the quarries was asked to bring on its own steam plant for three days while repairs were made to the plant at the power station.
The expansion in generating capacity was matched by extensions to the distribution network. In terms of cash expenditure it was even greater as £43,000 was spent on the mains, whilst only £37,000 was expended on generating plant. The largest item of expenditure on distribution was the 2,650V-dc feeder from Les Amballes to the new substation at St Sampson's, but the area covered by the mains was being slowly pushed out from the two generating points. The year 1900 saw expansion mainly through the commercial area of the town. In 1901 street lighting was introduced into the High Street in St. Peter Port, and for the first time, the market was lit with electricity, although this did not meet with universal acclaim. The distribution network continued along the front, from the brewery to the Salarie Corner and then inland to encompass the areas covered by Hauteville, Mount Row, Rohais and Amherst. The northern part of the island was not neglected, and concurrently with the feeder to the substation, on the north side of St Sampson's harbour, extensions were laid along Vale Avenue, the Bridge and Summerfield Road. In the years 1902 to 1904, connections were made to Castle Cornet and the Castel Hospital. Some 30,000 - 8 candlepower lamps and 1,900 bhp of plant were connected to 850 consumers by the end of 1905. The demand was considered to be remarkable in view of the high charges for electricity.
By the end of 1902, most of the area of dense population had been fairly well covered. To expand the undertaking it was necessary to provide a supply to sparsely populated areas. The problem of meeting requests for connections in circumstances that were not economic first appeared as early as 1900, when a resident of Oberlands applied for a supply of power. The nearest distribution point at that time was at the top of Mount Durand. The cost of laying a cable to make the connection was estimated at £400, which was about six years' wages for a semi-skilled person working 50 hours a week. The revenue from lighting the house was estimated to be around £15 per annum. The resident engineer offered to reduce the installation cost by capitalising the revenue at 20%, and to apply the same reduction if any other consumers in the lane decided to take a supply from this cable. Records do not show whether or not this offer was accepted, but about 18 months later, a cable was laid along the Ville au Roi which brought the supply close enough to solve this particular problem.
However, the fundamental difficulty of supplying outlying districts remained unresolved. The cost of laying underground cable would involve investment that could not be economically justified. A cheaper form of transmission had to be used if residents in rural areas were not to be deprived of the opportunity to use electricity. The resident engineer had approached the Electric Lighting Committee, in August 1902, with a request for the law to be changed to allow the company to erect low voltage overhead lines. The committee approved the principle, but their consultant drew attention to the need to consult the constables of the various parishes before reaching a decision, as their permission was required to erect poles on the highways. Eventually approval to erect overhead lines was given by the committee in 1904 but only to provide a supply to the quarries. States approval was obtained in 1905, but in the following year Arthur Bird requested wider approval. Before any action could be taken, the Law Officers reminded the company that Article 2 of the 1898 Law only allowed the erection of overhead lines in instances where it was not possible to lay cables underground. Consequently it was necessary to amend the law before any action could be taken to erect overhead lines over public thoroughfares.
A draft amendment was prepared in 1906 but there was to be a further delay. Major-General Mainguy, the President of the Electric Lighting Committee, and of the Telephone Department, was on holiday in Switzerland. From there he wrote to the Bailiff, telling him of an incident that had happened a few years earlier in which the overhead line of a tramway had fallen and smashed a telephone switchboard. Although the cost of repairing the damage was covered by insurance, it had taken three months to put the switchboard back into operation. On hearing of this, the Bailiff thought it would be inappropriate to put the matter before the States until he had further information from Major-General Mainguy. He therefore arranged for the matter to be held over pending the latter's return.
A study in 1906, by the consultant, the resident engineer of the electricity company and the manager of the Telephone Department, reached the conclusion that the interest of the telephone service would not be prejudiced by the erection of overhead lines, provided that all normal safety precautions were taken. In March 1907, the States gave the necessary authority for the erection of low voltage overhead lines, but only over private property and subject in each case to the approval of the Electric Lighting Committee. This authority enabled some work to proceed, and by the end of the year, overhead lines had been erected in the Salt Pans and Bordeaux areas.
Throughout the decade, Major-General Mainguy remained president of the supervisory States Electric Lighting Committee. The resident engineer, Arthur Bird, resigned from the service of the electricity undertaking on April 7th 1907 to become the engineer and manager of the Guernsey Railway Company and also the consultant to the States Electric Lighting Committee. He succeeded Albert Davis, when the latter left the island to take up a position in London.
In 1907, Mr C. Lakin-Smith from East Dorking was appointed resident engineer and manager in succession to Arthur Bird. In 1910, there was a further change when Mr. Lakin-Smith resigned from the company due to his wife's ill health. Mr. A. Rye was transferred from Hawick, as the new resident engineer and manager, a position he was to hold until 1919 when he was transferred to Edmundsons head office to fill the post of assistant general manager to the group. During the First World War Mr. Rye volunteered for active service and Arthur Bird provided managerial cover during his absence.
In June 1900, Mr. J. W. Frecker of Delancey, was appointed to the staff of the company to take charge of the accounts. His success in carrying out the duties of this post put him high in Edmundsons' league table for accuracy and speed in submitting statistical returns. He was also noted for his success in collecting revenue, which resulted in Guernsey having a remarkably low level of outstanding debt. He continued to perform these tasks until he retired in 1934.
In response to suggestions by resident engineers, Edmundsons decided in August 1903 to publish a company magazine. Originally to be a quarterly, and primarily intended for the communication of opinions and information, it became a monthly in January 1904. It was compiled by head office in London. Engineers were encouraged to contribute, but although freedom of expression was permitted, the editor, who was always a senior official at head office, reserved the right to criticise. Over the next five years, a change in purpose evolved so that by May 1909 the publication became the official organ of the growing group. The head office board decided to use it to strengthen control over its empire, and decreed that those parts of the text that had previously been construed as suggestions for action should now be regarded as company instructions.
Edmundsons decided to form a local company to take over the undertaking from the group in 1907. However, by virtue of Articles 17 and 18 of the Law, the States had to be given the first opportunity to purchase it. The States did not accept this offer, and on July 20th 1907, the Royal Court registered the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company Limited. The nominal capital of the new company was 50,000 £1 Ordinary Shares, 50,000 £1, 5% preference shares and £75,000 debentures bearing interest at 4½%. By this time Edmundsons had put a total of £134,600 into running the Guernsey operation. The company took up shares and debentures to this value by way of repayment, but despite an attempt to attract local investors, no other shares or debentures were issued. The directors of the newly formed company were Chairman V. G. Carey (later Sir Victor Carey, Bailiff of Guernsey), F. E. Gripper, J. C. Wigham, and J. Bishop.
During this first decade of the new century, the population of the island increased from 40,500 to almost 42,000. The number of separately occupied units of accommodation in the core catchment area of the undertaking, St Peter Port, St Sampson's and the Vale, grew by 800. The number of consumers rose from 100 at the end of 1900, to 1,000 at the end of 1910. Income from sales of electricity rose from £1,000 to over £11,000, so that both grew by a factor of approximately 10. Despite the similarity in the rate of growth of these two items, the development was not as consistent as the figures suggest. Unit sales during the period rose by a factor of 20, from less than 50,000 in 1900, to more than a million in 1910. It follows that the average unit price of the sales halved, which it did, from 5d per unit to a little over 2½d per unit.
The major cause of this fall was the lower rate charged for power, compared with that charged for lighting. The demand for power from the quarries and heavy industries far outstripped the demand for lighting, but it was not only the heavy industrial demand which caused the decline in average revenue per unit. During the interval of nearly 10 years, since public supplies first started, a variety of domestic and commercial appliances had been developed, widening the scope for the use of electricity. Records show that as early as 1900, electric irons were in use in the island and three churches had invested in electric organ blowers. By 1903 space-heating appliances, with a consumption of between 600 and 1600 watts, had been developed. Hot plates and coffee urns were available as well as small water heating appliances. It was realised in 1908, that it was uneconomic to calculate the cost of the electricity supplied to these appliances on the basis of the power tariff. The introduction of contract tariffs, when all the supply to a consumer could be measured through one meter overcame this problem.
Later in the decade, a new type of radiator was introduced for space heating. They used large tubular heat lamps with angular reflectors and were invented by H. J. Dowsing M.I.E.E. The entry to the market of these appliances came at a time when the Royal Court had to be vacated while the building was re-roofed. A contract was obtained to install 16 of these radiators in the temporary courtroom, an order that led to a further contract to install 10 more in the Isolation Hospital.
Improvements in the design of electric lamps resulted in the lighting load increasing at a rate that was less than might have been expected given the added number of lamps in use. The incandescent lamp of 1900, with a consumption of 3½ watts per candlepower, had been replaced through the decade by metallic filament lamps. Initially these had carbon filaments, but lamps with tantalum, metalled carbon and finally tungsten filaments followed them. The reliability and life of these lamps varied, but by 1907, a reliable 28-candlepower lamp that would maintain its output for 1,000 hours or more was available. From the electricity supplier's point of view, in the short term this was not all good news, as the consumption of these lamps was down from 3½ watts per candlepower to 1¼. The depressing financial effect of this on revenue from sales was gradually offset by the introduction of higher-powered lamps, up to 100 candlepower, but this all took time and required increased promotional effort.
The meters used for measuring the consumption of electricity at the turn of the 20th century, measured the rate of flow of current and were generally divided into two classes; those employing electrolysis and those employing motors or clockwork mechanisms. The 'Edison' was one of the earliest and better-known electrolytic meters, but was never extensively used because of the degree of maintenance required. The Wright's Patent Shunted Electrolytic Meter was used in Guernsey. It became available in 1901, being marketed by the Reason Manufacturing Company of Brighton. The quantity of electricity passing through the electrolyte was visible in a narrow reading tube against a graduated scale. The meter had to be reset to zero, by lifting the tube upward about its supporting hinge, after recording 1000 units. A Chamberlain&Hookam Type 1907 model, of 200 amps rating, was still being used in Randall's Brewery in St. Julian's Avenue until the last Mercury Arc Rectifier (located at Les Amballes Substation) was disconnected in 1987.
In April 1907, the editor of Edmundsons monthly magazine was moved to record his view that the effect of all these changes on the group's finances had become noticeable. Running a power station, he wrote, was less strenuous than the complicated business of finding new consumers.
The initial surge of consumers to be connected to the supply had tailed off. A survey in 1907 showed that of the 4,800 properties in Guernsey, that were suitable for connection, only 930 were actually on the supply. Concentrated efforts to improve the position through new marketing methods were needed, and a wide variety of suggestions were put forward, some of them bizarre. Among the more constructive there was a suggestion that lamps should be provided to households for a small charge, about one shilling per year, and broken bulbs replaced by the undertaking. There was another proposal to provide free trials of 100 candlepower lamps to shops just before Christmas, in the expectation that the owners would be prepared to buy them when they had seen the advantages. A scheme for paying bonuses to staff who introduced new consumers was instituted. The advent of the Venner time switch gave a boost to sales when, for the first time, shop windows could remain illuminated after the store was closed in the evening. Some of these moves obviously had their effect, and it was soon possible for the Guernsey office to report to Edmundsons, that it had now introduced electric lighting into most of the shops in the island, and certainly into those in St Peter Port.
In 1905, to further promote sales, Edmundsons set up a travelling exhibition to tour the towns and cities in which they owned undertakings. The schedule included a visit to St Julian's Hall in St. Peter Port for two weeks in June and July. It was reported that nearly 10,000 people, or one in four of the population, visited the exhibition, which was opened by Mr F E Gripper, Chairman of Edmundsons Electricity Corporation. Amongst the attractions there was a demonstration of electro-plating by a visiting firm, and another demonstration of engraving, by Mr A P Rogers, one of the first consumers of electricity in the island. Despite all the attractions, the high attendance and the glowing reports, the exhibition was disappointing in terms of orders taken. This was attributed in part to crowding, due to the inadequate facilities for the number of exhibits. However at the time it was considered that St Julian's Hall was the only suitable venue for such an occasion.
The year 1909 was not a good one for the finances of the undertaking. Competition became more intense from the Gas Company whose advertising campaign included the claim that gas did not go out suddenly. On another occasion it was reported that the Gas Company refused to install cookers in premises unless the owners also installed gas lighting. In one month, the resident engineer reported that this had resulted in him losing several consumers. At the end of 1909 there was a further setback, when a crane at one of the quarries collapsed and was out of action for a full month. Whilst incidents of this nature would be of little significance one hundred years later, at the time they were a cause of major concern. The loss of sales was sufficiently noticeable that it was apparent in the returns to head office, requiring an explanation that was subsequently published with the statistics in Edmundsons' Monthly.
The Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company opened a new showroom on September 21st 1910 in the Commercial Arcade. An advert placed in the Star by the company asserted that this action was necessary to cope with the extra business. It no doubt helped to improve consumer services and also the company's image, but it did little to boost demand for electricity. However by selling accessories rather than appliances, it managed to achieve a level of viability for a few years.
The struggle to maintain its share of the market for power came at a time when the other aspects of the undertaking had a good record. In order to comply with the law the plant at the power station and the distribution network had to be inspected annually by the consultant, who was required to report on the general condition of the undertaking to the Electric Lighting Committee. These inspection reports were consistently favourable, since only minor defects were found. Total blackouts were infrequent, running at only one every few years, whilst partial supply losses rarely occurred, and a high proportion of these were due to damage by contractors working in the roads, a problem that was to continue throughout the century. The reputation for a reliable supply was dented in 1910, when fierce storms swept the whole of the British Isles, including the Channel Islands, causing widespread damage across the whole area. In Guernsey some seven faults occurred during the first storm, and before the staff had time to make good the damage, a further storm hindered the repair work and put another three distribution cables out of action.
The efforts in 1910 to establish electric power as a valuable and safe commodity were not helped, when a fire, believed to have been caused by an electrical fault, broke out in the Castel Church. The wiring there had been installed some six years previously, but not by the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company.
Despite these setbacks, the advent of electricity was beginning to make an impact on the quality of life, and on the level of productivity in the island. There was improved lighting in the town area, and electricity was available to a large number of private dwellings. An electric crane on the wharf, fitted with three motors of 30, 16 and 4hp capacity, improved the harbour's operating efficiency. It was now possible to unload and load one hatch of a steamer in a morning, for a consumption of only three to four units. These cost about 2d each, whereas previously, it was claimed, it had cost the shipping company two shillings and sixpence just to get steam up on the old steam cranes, before work could start.
The year 1910 saw further moves to increase the efficiency at the St Peter harbour when a scheme was approved to replace more of the existing cranes with electrically operated models. This decision was taken after a small committee had visited Avonmouth, Bristol, Fishguard and Southampton, to study the operations there. Proposals some years earlier, had run into opposition, due to what was considered to be the high cost of installing 1,100 metres of cable from Les Amballes power station to the site of the cranes. On this later occasion, the committee recommended that two 30 cwt. electric cranes should be purchased at a cost of £1,010 each. The States voted a total of £3,610, as recommended by the St Peter Port Harbour Committee. Implementation of this scheme opened the way for the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company to lay its first submarine cable. A motor was required to operate the foghorn on the Castle Breakwater. To energise it, a cable was laid from the new supply to the cranes on the White Rock, across the harbour entrance, to the site of the foghorn.