Oil Generation 1911 - 1920
Earlier it was noted that, prior to the year 1911, the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company had generated all its units from coal in external combustion plant, even though suitable internal combustion engines had been available for some years In 1892, Dr Rudolph Diesel had patented his internal combustion engine, and the following year published a detailed description of it This type of engine was based on principles first expounded by Sadi Carnot in 1824, and had a thermal efficiency that was better than that of the external combustion engines Unfortunately, due to the restrictions imposed by Dr Diesel on the licensed manufacturers, improvements to the basic design were inhibited until the time of his death, when, in 1913, he fell overboard from a steamer on his way from Antwerp to visit the British Admiralty Despite these inhibitions the earlier models were suitable for stationary power plant, and it was in 1908 that Edmundsons decided to invest in them.
By that time it was clear that the demand for power in the quarries in the north of the island would, in the near future, outstrip that for lighting around the commercial centre of St Peter Port The generating capacity at Les Amballes, 510 kilowatts, exceeded the 360 kilowatts capacity at St Sampson's As a result, electricity was transferred from Les Amballes to St Sampson's through the dc feeder, which resulted in a high percentage of loss To prepare for an increase in the generating capacity by the addition of diesel plant, a 200 kilowatt gas producer generating set was first installed in Les Amballes in 1908 enabling the two 180 kilowatt steam generating sets to be dismantled and removed. Building works could then start to prepare for the installation of two, 135 kilowatt Mirrlees diesel engines.
Mirrlees A Frame Diesel Generator installed at Les Amballes 1911
Meanwhile, at St Sampson's, work went ahead with the installation of two Mirrlees 170 kilowatts sets, which were commissioned in May 1911 In the latter two weeks of that month, one of the new diesel sets generated over 25,000 units, and significantly reduced the loss on the transmission of power from Les Amballes As a result of these changes, by the end of 1913 the total generating capacity of the two stations was 1,340 kilowatts.
The benefits expected from the installation of this new plant were short-lived In January 1912, a series of faults led to one or two large consumers being cut off five times This was followed in March by a series of incidents that the resident engineer and manager reported as being another "most disastrous month with breakdown of plant" A gas engine broke down on load, smashing the liner and piston, bending the con-rod, battering the crankshaft and puncturing holes in the bed plate, carrying away a quarter of the side of the crankcase in the process. On several occasions only one engine was running at St Sampson's By the end of the month things were improved, but it was not until September that the repairs to the gas engine were completed Despite these setbacks the units generated during the year rose to more than 1.9 million.
1913 saw a further improvement in sales of electricity The maximum demand jumped by 100 kilowatts, to pass the one megawatt barrier, and the number of units generated during the year went up to nearly 2¼ million But it was still a year of mixed fortunes in the power station, casting doubt on the accuracy of the 1907 statement that finding new customers was more strenuous than running a power station More plant failures occurred in May Five seized pistons and a fractured piston crown reduced the capacity to the extent that Manuelle's Mills had to be closed down for several hours A few days later, a feeder fault blew all the fuses on Les Amballes switchboard, interrupting the supply for twenty minutes.
Whilst the engineers continued to struggle to maintain supply, efforts to attract more business were proceeding The range of appliances available for domestic and commercial use continued to expand Edmundsons set up its own showroom in London, and kept their branches informed of developments in this field In Guernsey in 1911 there was a trades exhibition at which the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company had a stall The sales from the stall were not great, but useful contacts were made An order was secured for lighting the St Peter Port High Street for the celebrations to mark the coronation of King George V, in June This being the first celebration of its nature, at which a public electricity supply was able to contribute, it is worth recording in some detail.
The High Street was fitted with a number of arches of lamps in strips; in all 960 lamps The Albert Statue was illuminated with a floral strip The United Club, The Guernsey Press and Les Riches all had an illuminated "GM", a crown and some lighting strips to decorate their buildings The Guilles Allez Library, Old Government House Hotel, Bartletts Cinematograph Hall, Adams Public House, and Agnews&Langlois, the electrical contractors, all put on some sort of illuminated show, whilst Mr J. Bishop, a director of the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company, put up 250 lamps to illuminate his house In all 2,030 eight candlepower lamps were used.
It was the custom in the early part of the century, for the country districts to celebrate special occasions on differing dates On this occasion both St Martin's and St Sampson's parishes used electric lamps in their decorations The celebration in St Peter Port was marred by rain While this was disappointing for all those who had opted to decorate their premises with Chinese lanterns, it did nothing to harm the future for electricity.
External factors played a great part in improving sales of electricity, but they did not always operate to this end. Exports of stone slackened off towards the end of 1911, and did not pick up again until late in the following year In 1914 the "half watt" lamp was introduced This was so named as the consumption was one half watt for one candlepower. The drop in sales due to the lower consumption of these lamps was not immediately obvious, but by the end of the period it was becoming significant Initially these bulbs were only available with a consumption of around 2,000 watts, and were not reliable But later when the smaller lamps were brought onto the market, the reliability factor increased and they became more popular.
At the company's Annual General Meeting in April 1913, the Chairman announced that a contract had been entered into with the Guernsey Railway Company to supply power to run the trams during specified periods, a service that started in the following month It will be recalled that trams had been operated by electric power, generated by the company, since the early nineties. The change over to the use of power from the general supply heralded the start of a long period in which, the Guernsey Railway Company progressively became one of the undertaking's most important consumers.
Early picture of showroom at 25 High Street
A few months after the annual general meeting of the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company on August 14 1913, new offices and a showroom were officially opened at the recently purchased premises at 25 High Street.
The offices had moved from Les Amballes in June and now the Showroom moved from the Commercial Arcade. The whole undertaking was opened to the public over a period of three days, and the large sign at the front of the building was illuminated at night It was estimated that some 2,500 people attended the cookery demonstration, which was the high point of the occasion, the cook having been brought over from London. There were a variety of appliances on show, including an electric teapot, a coffee-pot, egg boilers, candlesticks, radiators, lamps and a vacuum cleaner. Other attractions included demonstrations of ironing and sausage chopping The open-day included a tour of the power station as well as the offices, Guernsey Railway Company having provided, without charge, buses to transport members of the public between the two units of the undertaking. Reports in the press praised the office layout, and described in some detail the seven floors, four of which faced the harbour It also described the plant used to run the trams A traction motor to generate the current to drive and light the cars was installed at each of the two power stations, with control equipment to balance the load The view was expressed that the lights in the trams were at a level that had never been attained before.
It is interesting to note that whilst these developments were taking place in Guernsey, the Jersey authorities were still reluctant to embrace the by then well-established technology A consulting electrical engineer, with substantial financial resources, offered in 1913 to provide an electricity supply system for St Helier The offer was not accepted and it was not until 1925 that Jersey had a public electricity supply.
There was another special event that gave the undertaking the opportunity to demonstrate the advantages of electric lighting In July 1914 there was a fete at Victor Hugo's house in Hauteville, St Peter Port The wiring section was employed to erect the illuminations, and once again, heavy rain set in during the evening. An hour or so after lighting up time electric lamps provided the only light.
When war broke out, in 1914, action was in hand to further increase the generating capacity In 1915, a 250 kilowatts Mirrlees Diesel set was installed at Les Amballes power station. Also, at about this time, a 420 kW National suction gas generating set was commissioned at St Sampson's This brought the total generating capacity to 1.9 MW, to meet a maximum demand of 1.1 MW The following year it was decided to revise the rating of the plant, possibly to reduce the figure from its nameplate rating to its current continuous operating capability As a result of these changes at the end of 1917 there was an installed capacity of 1.35 MW By 1919, this had increased to 1.48 MW.
In 1910, the maximum demand on the system was nearly 900 kilowatts, the number of units generated being 1¾ million, with a load factor of 19% The year 1914, when 2.35 million units were generated with a load factor of 22%, was the high point of the decade. Sales reached 1.932 million units at the lowest price of the century, 1.67d each. During the war the number of consumers continued to increase, but otherwise the position deteriorated Units generated and maximum demand both fell, until 1919 after the war had ended, when the position recovered By the end of that year there were 1,278 consumers, and the maximum demand had climbed back from a low of 839 kilowatts in 1918 to 1.08 MW. However, the number of units generated was still below two million, giving the depressing load factor of 16% The year 1920 saw an upsurge again, the number of consumers rose to 1,348, and the maximum demand to 1.3 MW, but with units generated only just topping the two million mark, the load factor was only 14%.
The troubles that had beset the generating department before the war did not abate during the latter half of the decade As was to be expected, war conditions did nothing to help the undertaking fulfil its objective of delivering a consistent supply of power at an economic price, with a reasonable profit on the bottom line The most serious plant failure occurred on November 9th 1918, two days before the war ended A serious explosion in a six feet wide air duct, located in St Sampson's engine room, blew out a thirty feet stretch of the tunnel, part of the roof and one end of the station, littering the street with debris Repairs took several months to complete, and supplies to the quarries and mills were restricted for a week.
The problems caused to shipping by the hostilities were intermittent Within a few weeks of the outbreak of war, stone shipments were temporarily halted Lubricating oil stocks became low, causing restrictions on power supplies In 1916 and 1917 the stone trade was more active, with six or seven boats engaged in carrying stone to Dunkirk, for road making Their capacity was not fully utilised as they were often delayed in Dunkirk, due to lack of adequate facilities in the port Fortunately, their passage was not interrupted by the activities of the local German U-boat Gossip in the harbour had it that the captain of this U-boat had traded to Guernsey in a stone carrier for some years, and had a fellow feeling for the boats now plying the trade.
By late 1917, the stone exports to France had grown to the point where nine to ten thousand tons of stone were being shipped each week, much of it from stocks, as the exports exceeded the production capacity Also in 1917, the demand from France for stone was so great that 250 stone workers went from Guernsey to work in the French quarries The island's workforce was further drained by the call-up of men for the forces, and this reduction in the population had its own impact on the sale of power
In January 1915, an order came into force curtailing lighting everywhere in the island This was followed in May 1916 by further restrictions From readings taken before and after the date of implementation of this latest order, it was estimated that the lighting load was reduced by some 25% during the summer months
Among the new consumers to be connected to the supply during the war there was one that was of direct benefit to the economy of the island. When electricity was supplied to St Peter Port harbour in 1910, it had not been extended to St Julian's Emplacement and five steam cranes remained there, one dating from 1892. In the middle years of the decade the supply to the harbour was extended to meet the demand from electrically driven cranes, which replaced their steam driven counterparts
There was also a number of extensions to the electricity supply that affected the social and commercial aspects of life Holy Trinity Church was connected to the supply in late 1915 Twelve 2-kilowatts heaters were attached to the ends of the pews and a further four installed at the entrance and inside aisles It was reported that these raised the temperature in the Church by 10ºF in two hours (but only after the ventilator in the roof, which had been left open and unnoticed, had been closed) In 1917, the gas lighting in the County Hospital and Asylum was replaced by electric lamps on the grounds of efficiency and safety (at that time the term "Asylum" was used in its literal sense, i.e. an institution providing shelter and support to distressed or destitute individuals) At the request of the Medical Officer of Health, the operating theatre, at the hospital, was connected to the supply as a health measure Still in the public health arena, in 1914 the States approved a plan to install equipment to produce the disinfectant Thalassol, and to connect the plant to the electricity supply The plant, which was commissioned early in 1915, was mainly to provide disinfectant, at an affordable price, for purposes where it was not being used because of lack of funds The Pioneer Clothing Company that installed 1,400 candlepower of lighting and Maison Carré were among the better known commercial organisations to be connected to the electricity supply at this time.
The connection of the model yacht pond to the supply attracted considerable attention during this period. The pond had been opened in 1878 It was used for pleasure, as well as for testing models of racing craft that would be built in the island It had been bedevilled from the start with problems arising from the difficulty in filling it with seawater A variety of methods had been tried, including a windmill to provide the power for pumping The latest scheme was a steam driven pump, that had proved more successful than its predecessors, but was expensive to operate When an electrically driven pump was installed it filled the pond quickly, leading, locally, to the claim that this had made it the finest model yacht pond in the whole of the United Kingdom.
The electric car was another innovation, which during this decade attracted attention in the United States of America, and later in Europe By 1914 several models were available for purchase A lorry manufactured in France had a top speed of 7½ mph and a range of 25 to 30 miles It was fitted with two, six horsepower motors, one driving each of the front wheels, and was available at a cost of £800 Another, a German model for light loads of around five hundredweight, cost £330 The interest that these aroused in the United Kingdom was sufficient for Edmundsons to instruct all resident engineers to install standard charging plugs, and to take such steps as they could to promote the use of the electric vehicle In doing so, the head office expressed the view that their time had come and that their use would probably spread rapidly. Eighty-five years and several false starts later, this prophecy was still unfulfilled.
By 1917, the cumulative effect of a number of factors was seriously affecting the finances of the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Co In April Mr. V.G. Carey, the company chairman, submitted a draft Projet for the consideration of the States, with the object of correcting the situation He took the opportunity to seek, in all, four amendments to the original law He requested that Article 2, which provided for the construction of transmission lines, should be amended to deal solely with underground lines, whilst a new Article 2a would make provisions for overhead cables The third proposed amendment was to Article 11 which imposed a limit on the price that could be charged for electricity, and furthermore, stipulated that maximum demand indicators should be installed in all premises Finally a new Article 25 was proposed to protect the company against claims that wiring, which had originally been installed under a hire purchase agreement, was the property of a subsequent owner New owners of houses sometimes made this claim being under the impression that they had purchased the wiring as a part of the house.
In support of the amendments to Article 11, Mr. Carey set out the factors that had led to the deteriorating financial position of the company The war had caused costs to rise and despite the 15% increase in tariff approved in 1915, the limitations on price imposed by the 1898 law prevented the company from raising its tariff to a level that would cover the extra expenses The position was not helped by the introduction, in 1916, of the daylight saving scheme that reduced the use of electricity for lighting during the summer The cost of living generally had risen; later, the civil servants claimed that it had gone up by 154% between 1914 and 1920 The company also had incurred additional expenses since the war started It had paid an allowance to the dependants of men who had joined the armed forces, but the replacement staff were less experienced, and consequently more costly to employ. The price of fuel had not only risen dramatically, but had deteriorated in quality In 1898, when the original law had been enacted, coal delivered to Guernsey cost 15/- per ton In 1914 it had gone up to 20/-, but by 1917 the price was 60/- per ton Further in 1914 it had taken 2.1 lbs. of coal or 0.7 lbs. of fuel oil to generate a unit of electricity, in 1917 this had risen to 2.5 lbs. of coal or 0.91 lbs. of oil The proposed amendment to Article 11, sought to raise the maximum price that could be charged for electricity, supplied to the general public, from 7d to 8d per unit, and the price for the supply to public buildings from 2d to 3d In both cases there would be an extra ½d for every 5s rise in the price of coal.
Dealing with the long-term prospects for prices, it was submitted that the price of coal was significantly influenced by the wages of sailors and miners They had received large wage increases during the war that were unlikely to be reversed; a lowering of fuel costs was therefore only a remote possibility The case for modifying the article to abolish the maximum demand system of charging, rested on its unpopularity with both the public and the staff of the undertaking and the fact that very few manufacturers were making the meters This fall in popularity arose in part from the erratic behaviour of the demand indicator, but the effect was that most consumers had already opted out of the scheme in favour of a contract arrangement.
The original Article 2 had stipulated that all distribution mains should be placed underground, except where this was not possible In 1907, an Order in Council had varied this to permit lines to be erected overhead, but only on private property. The proposed amendment to Article 2, left the regulations for laying underground cables mainly untouched, but moved the provisions for overhead lines to a new Article 2a
This new Article would allow overhead lines to be placed along the sides of roads and across them It was contended that this was the only way to extend the network, which then ran from the town for about two miles into the countryside and to a few outlying areas such as Cobo and parts of St Saviour's and St Sampson's The cost of underground cabling could not be justified in thinly populated areas, but supplies to rural areas was becoming particularly desirable as the agricultural industry was beginning to show an interest in using electricity. Insofar as the protection and safety of the public and staff was concerned, it was pointed out that the regulations in the proposed article provided for stringent precautions to be taken when constructing and maintaining overhead lines The precautions had been agreed between the managers of the Telephone Department and of Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company who had suggested that the latter's interests would best be served by taking great care to adhere to the regulations.
Erecting a pole for a low voltage overhead line using shear-legs, block and tackle
The new law was passed in August 1917, and a revised tariff was introduced on January 1st 1918 The effect on the network was soon apparent After the intense activity of laying mains cables during the first decade, the expenditure on this service, between 1911 and 1917, was only £6,000 This included the cost of installing number 3 substation at Fort George (re-named Fort Rd. in later years) In the last two years of the decade some £4,000 was spent on extending the network. It is of interest to note that the average number of consumers connected to the supply each year, up until the year 1910, was nearly one hundred, whilst between 1911 and 1918 there was not more than 36 in any one year. In the two years 1919 - 1920, after the new law was passed, 148 new consumers were connected.
In 1919, when Mr. Rye, the resident engineer, was transferred to Edmundsons' Head Office to take up the post of assistant general manager to the group, Major Francis Barritt Hills succeeded him. Major Barritt Hills was transferred from the post of resident engineer at Montrose, to which he had recently returned after service with the British Army.
Before he left the island, Mr. Rye sought the approval of the States to a further increase in the maximum that could be charged per unit of electricity, this time to one shilling. It had become evident that the tariff increase, allowed by the 1917 amendment to the Law, was insufficient to meet the company's growing needs for finance It was pointed out that the company had not paid a dividend since 1913, and during the period since then, the gross profit had fallen from 42% to 23% With the introduction of the new tariff, the gross profit for 1918 was better at 28%. This was still not enough to meet the £2,250 per annum interest on debentures, or to make adequate provision for the renewal of plant and equipment In addition, some £5,000 was needed to pay for extensions and services to provide a supply of electricity to new applicants The States approved the request, and so eased the pressure on the company's finances.
Arthur Bird, who had served as consultant to the Electric Lighting Committee since 1907 and had acted for Mr. Rye during the war, resigned his post as consultant, with effect from December 31st 1919 In 1921, he was appointed a member of the Electric Lighting Committee but he retired from that post in 1927 and left the island He died at his home in Scotland in 1973, a few days after his one hundredth birthday. In 1921, Mr Ernest Bennett, the manager of the Telephone Department replaced him as inspector of overhead lines, and Mr William Habgood became installations inspector.
The world war brought about a change in the social structure that by 1920 was beginning to have an affect at all levels. Wages for workers at the lower end of the scale had increased considerably since the outbreak of the war, and many could now afford electricity whereas previously they could not. At the upper levels of income, those who had previously employed domestic staff now found that by using electrical appliances the higher staff wages could be avoided The omens from both aspects were good for an improvement in the finances of the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company.
General view of the Power Station from the Southside of St. Sampson's Harbour circa 1920. The first substation to be erected in the Island and a part of the coal handling plant can be seen in the background.
At this time, the dark cloud on the horizon was the depressed load factor. By 1920 the peak loads were increasing at a greater rate than the consumption This was putting a strain on the demand for plant, but after four years of war, generating plant was in short supply The machinery that had been built had been taken for the war effort, so that a logjam had formed which had not been helped by the miners' strike in late October Demand for plant now exceeded manufacturing capacity Coupled with this, the Guernsey Electric Light and Power Company's finances were at a low ebb and it was difficult to raise capital with which to purchase any plant that did become available The major problem at the end of 1920 was, therefore, that a maximum demand of 1.3 MW had to be met with plant rated at 1.5 MW, albeit with battery backup.