The Early Days of Electric Power
In the early months of the twentieth century, the electricity supply industry in Guernsey comprised a small building containing plant for generating electricity that was nearing the commissioning stage. The capacity of the plant being installed was 150 kilowatts and the distribution network comprised a few miles of underground cable. By way of comparison, during the nineteen nineties it was reported that, to meet the demand of the residents on the small island of Brecqou the owners had installed three generator sets with a combined capacity of 150 kilowatts.
It was not until February 20th 1900 that the first units were generated for distribution to a limited number of consumers. One hundred years later the distribution network covered the whole island, the generating plant could deliver 125 megawatts and, on several occasions, more than one million units of electricity had been generated in a single day. There was also under construction a cable link with Jersey and France rated at 60 megawatts.
For centuries past, it had been necessary to produce power at the point of use. Initially, the muscle-power of man and beast was exerted to achieve this end. Later, mills were sited alongside rivers from which they could draw energy. Still later, coal, wood and oil driven motors were installed as an integral part of individual factories. When electric power first became available it followed the same pattern in that privately owned generators were installed at user's sites. The advent of a centralised electricity supply industry, with the ability to transmit and distribute energy over relatively long distances made electricity more readily available to more of the population. Equally important there were benefits for manufacturers from having a clean, usable form of fuel delivered to their site. They no longer had to build their factories near rivers; nor had they to utilise space to house plant, fuel stocks, and ancillary equipment.
The first discovery that would lead to mechanical power came about 1650 when it was found that by changing the pressure in a cylinder the piston could be made to move. Early in the next century, Thomas Savery and Thomas Newcomen developed this theory. But it was not until 1775, when the industrial revolution was gathering momentum, that Thomas Watt built a reliable machine to convert the energy in coal into usable power. Starting from a low of around 4% efficiency, by 1830 a level of 10% had been reached.
Initially electricity was produced using chemical processes. This was followed in 1820 by the discovery by Oersted of Copenhagen of the relationship between magnetism and electricity. Later, in 1831, Professor Michael Faraday discovered that spinning a magnet inside a coil of wire would produce an electric current. In ten days of actual work in the autumn of that year Faraday invented the dynamo (to produce direct current - dc), the alternator (to generate alternating current - ac), and the transformer to step ac voltage up and down. Faraday was a dedicated research scientist who was not interested in the practical applications of his discoveries. He did not patent his findings, but left it to others to realise the commercial potential of his work whilst he carried on with more experiments in the wider aspects of science.
It was many more years before machinery was built that would form the basis of a viable industry capable of producing and distributing electricity. About 1849 work had progressed to the point where the first public adoption of the principles could be displayed. This was a crude but rugged two-ton machine that provided electricity for the arc lamps situated in the South Forelands lighthouse on the Kent coast. A further twelve years was to elapse before Gramme's Dynamo proved to be a piece of equipment reliable enough to justify commercial development.
The first use of electricity for illumination came when battery operated arc lamps were invented by Sir Humphrey Davey, early in the nineteenth century. They produced light of great intensity, when compared with incandescent lamps, but the dazzling whiteness of the light made them unsuitable for small interiors. They were however, eminently suitable for lighting large areas, where the lamps could be placed high enough to diffuse the light, for example in commercial premises and for street lighting. There were many types available of what were called enclosed arc lamps. These could be connected directly to the 100 or 200 volts dc circuits and would run for 100 to 200 hours without re-carboning. The"Jandus" was one of the more popular types of arc lamp but they all had short lives and this, coupled with the other factors, limited their use. There was little demand for electricity for lighting therefore until, in 1878/1879, Edison in America and Swan in England invented the incandescent lamp, which provided light from a carbon filament in a vacuum. Various changes to style, shape and materials followed over the years, but the basic principle remained the same. The introduction of this type of lamp was an important factor in stimulating growth in the supply industry at the time, and power for lighting continued to form a significant proportion of electricity sales throughout the century.
These developments took place far away from Guernsey but they did not pass unnoticed. The latter part of the nineteenth century saw the gradual introduction into the island of this new type of lighting. In the first place it was private individuals and commerce that introduced schemes for lighting houses and shops. Mr R. H. Randall brought the first dynamo into the island when he imported his Silvertown dynamo.
This was originally acquired to illuminate St Julian's Avenue, in front of Randall's Brewery, as a part of the Queen Victoria Golden Jubilee celebrations on June 20th 1887.
Ten years later, in the year of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, the first domestic installation was commissioned in Mr Preston's house, Le Chalet, at Fermain Bay. This installation, the work of Mr W Habgood, used the water in the stream running down the hillside as its motive power.
In January 1891, following complaints about the dust raised by the steam trams, Guernsey Railway Company was given permission to operate electric trams. The service commenced in 1892 but suffered problems and it was not until late 1893 that the operation proved successful. Ten years later in 1903, the company replaced its generating plant with a Refuse Destructer Steam and Electricity Generating Plant. The States, at that time, displayed no interest in making use of it for the disposal of waste, however the Constables of St Peter Port, and later of St Sampson's, did take advantage of the facility.
Godalming, in Surrey, lays claim to being the first town in the world to have a public supply of electricity. Cander and Barrett started it as a practical experiment in September 1881, using the power from a water mill in a leather factory to produce 15 kilowatts of electricity. Despite efforts to make it a success, including a take-over by Siemens Bros., the scheme failed and was finally shut down in May 1884. In 1896 Edmundson's Electricity Corporation acquired the rights to supply power and started building a power station in 1901.
Moves to introduce a generating and distributing industry to supply the people of Guernsey became serious in 1891. In September of that year, an application was made by Mr T. M. Bichard and Mr J. H. Duquemin, on behalf of the Electricity Lighting and Power Station Company, to be given the concession to build and operate plant for a public service. The application set out in twenty-three articles, the conditions under which it would operate. The media of the day was supportive, suggesting that Guernsey should not be left behind less developed places that had benefited from street lighting for several years. The Royal Court had not been enthusiastic when considering the proposal and, after a long debate in the States, it was rejected by 21 votes to 6. The rejection, according to one report, was mainly due to the fact that a monopoly would be established.
No doubt there was discussion on the subject during the ensuing years but it was not until 1897 that the matter was seriously raised again. In that year the Guernsey Railway Company demonstrated the use of electricity for lighting by illuminating the Sausmarez Monument in Delancey Park using a portable steam generator. From a lighting point of view this was a great success, but it took considerable effort and cost and the company did not develop the idea further.
On August 2nd of the same year Mr F. E. Gripper, a director of Edmundsons Electricity Corporation of London, submitted a draft Projet de Loi to the Royal Court. This proposed granting a concession to the company to generate and supply electric power to the public. During the consideration of the proposal by the Royal Court, an advocate, representing the earlier applicants for a concession, drew attention to the previous request made in 1891. He claimed that his clients had incurred considerable expense in engaging a qualified engineer to advise them on their application and that it would be unfair not to reconsider their proposal. However, this view was not accepted, and the Royal Court proceeded to appoint a select committee comprising Jurats de Vic F. Carey, N. Domaille and Major-General F. B. Mainguy to consider the Edmundsons proposal and report back.
On December 30th 1897 the select committee presented its report to the Bailiff, Sir Thomas Carey. The members proposed some amendments to the draft Projet and, in addition, reported on a study of some of the undertakings in England that were owned and operated by municipal authorities. In particular the report mentioned Brighton, where the corporation-owned undertaking supplied electricity at the rate of 7d (240d = £1) per unit for the first hour each day and thereafter at 1½d per unit. This resulted in a profit of £1,000 per annum. The report suggested that the States should seriously consider this alternative, but nevertheless recommended that the concession be granted. The results of the operations of some dozen municipalities included in the report did not support the case for municipality run undertakings. Only two of them had made a profit in the year under review, whilst the deficits ranged from £215 to £1,706.
On February 25th 1898 and again on March 4th the States considered the report and approved the principles involved, but referred two of the articles in the Projet back to the committee for further consideration. The following month the States approved the revised Projet and, after consideration by the Privy Council, at the Court of Windsor the Queen in Council confirmed the law, which was registered in Guernsey on August 6th 1898. The law contained several articles requiring Edmundsons Electricity Corporation to carry out specific functions within set time limits. All used the date on which the law was registered in the island as the base date, which then became the effective date for the start of the concession. And so, after several years of detailed consideration and discussion, an electricity supply undertaking was established in Guernsey. It is difficult to imagine the thoughts of the public at this time, but it is certain that they would never have envisaged the effect that this event would have on the their lives.
The law set out in detail the terms under which the concessionaires were to establish and operate the undertaking. It authorised the directors of Edmundsons Electricity Corporation of London to build and operate the plant needed to supply electricity to the island for lighting and motive power. The construction work was to comply with British Board of Trade safety regulations as well as local rules governing the opening of trenches in the roads for laying cables. In the absence of a regulatory body, such as the Board of Trade, plans for all works were to be approved by a committee of the States that also had to be satisfied with the way in which the work was carried out. Articles 2 and 6 set out how cables were to be laid in the roads, the notice to be given of road openings and the liability for reinstatement. Cables and conductors were only to be placed overhead in places where it was impossible to site them underground. The penalty for failure to comply with any of these conditions was a fine not exceeding £5 plus £1 per day during which the failure persisted.
The concessionaire was only permitted to supply power to the public when a qualified engineer, nominated by the States Electricity Committee, had certified that the work had been carried out in accordance with the law. Also that it paid due regard to the safety of the company's employees and members of the public. It was stipulated that work should start within one year of the law being registered. Within two years cables were to be laid in the harbours and in those streets of St Peter Port and St Sampson's listed in the Schedule to Article 7 of the law, about 7 kilometres in all. In all other areas of the island, if enough owners or occupiers of property undertook to use, in each of three consecutive years, electricity with a value equal to a fifth of the cost of the cable laying, the concessionaires were required to comply with the request within six months. Failure to provide a supply would result in the concessionaire paying compensation to each of the applicants. Furthermore, if work in the scheduled areas was not started and finished within the periods specified the cables and equipment that had been installed would become the property of the States. Article 17 of the law provided for the termination of the concession. The States would have the option, subject to due notice being given, of buying the undertaking at the end of fourteen years from the date of registration, or subsequently at the end of any further period of seven years. The method to be used in calculating the purchase price was also set out in the law.
On the question of tariff, the law provided that the concessionaires could charge rent for metering equipment installed in consumers' premises. In the absence of any other agreement a maximum demand indicator was to be installed for use in calculating the first part of a two-part tariff. The number of units used in one hour per day to meet the maximum demand could be charged at no more than 7d per unit. The maximum that could be charged for all other units was set at 4d for a period of four years from the date of registration and thereafter at 3d per unit. Electricity supplied for lighting roads, harbours and public buildings belonging to the States could be charged at the maximum rate of 4d per unit up to August 5th 1902, after which the maximum would be 3d per unit. Any profit made by the company in excess of 10% of the capital employed was to be shared equally with the States. The concessionaires were further required to deposit £1,000 with the Treasurer of the States by way of guarantee that work would start on time.
From the outset Edmundsons found it desirable to operate a small wiring and contracting department to carry out work for its consumers. These operations were outside the scope of the concession.
Discussions were held with the Guernsey Railway Company in 1899 with the object of forming a joint company that could have been quoted on the London Stock Exchange. Although talks dragged on for months, because of the poor state of the money market at that time, nothing came of them.