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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Development of the electricity industry in British Columbia Taylor, Mary Doreen

Abstract

It is the purpose of this study to examine the development of the electricity industry in British Columbia from its beginnings in 1883 until 1961, in order to see what relationship exists between this development and technological change; new uses of electricity; the part played by government; and the economic growth of the province. The study is divided by approximate growth periods and within each there is some description of major electric facilities; an examination of these in relationship to the factors listed above; and some assessment of the causes and consequences of the total development. Electric generating capacity has grown from zero in 1883 to over three million kilowatts in 1961. The increase was rapid until 1931 and then slackened off during the Depression. New plants were being scheduled when the shortages of labour and materials causes by World War II forced utilities to halt construction. New construction began immediately after the War, and at such an increased rate that over four-and-a-half times as much generating plant was added between 1945 and 1961 as was built in the preceding years. Technology has never been a decisive feature for generating plants and transmission lines in British Columbia. Larger and more efficient stations were always developed before they were needed. Transmission line technology also advanced with the need for longer lines at higher voltages. Government, both municipal and provincial, played an important role in the growth of the electricity industry in British Columbia. Municipalities were often responsible for introducing electric power into a community. It was only when the demands for power increased beyond the capability of the local power plant that some of these communities were forced either to sell the plant to a larger utility or to close the generating plant and purchase power from a larger producer. In 1944 the provincial government became involved in the electricity industry. Because the population of the province was small and consequently the number of customers few and scattered, there were many small generating plants and long transmission lines. This meant a high cost per customer. In order to overcome this to some extent and also to provide more rural electrification, the B.C. Power Commission was set up by the government. Expansion followed. Between 1945 and 1961 several of the major undeveloped water resources had been studied with a view to large scale hydro-electric development. Only the Kitimat - Kemano project materialized. However, in order to guarantee a major market for power from at least one more of these resources, the provincial government, in 1961, expropriated the B.C. Electric Company. This was, in 1962, amalgamated with the other provincial power agency to form the B.C. Hydro and Power Authority. Demand for electricity did not always keep pace with the generating capability. During the nineteen-twenties there was a wide gap between capacity and actual generation. This reflected, primarily, the larger scale construction programme being carried on. Also, because most of the customers of the municipal and private utilities were residential or commercial, the load factors were low; there was a great difference between the base and peak load. Since there had to be sufficient capacity to cover the peak load, it meant that there was idle plant during much of the time. Load factors increased during the 1930 to 1944 period as there was little new construction. The population grew and, after the early days of the depression, consumption per capita increased. That the capacity added after the War was needed is evinced in the fact that load factors remained quite high. Indeed, with expanded industrial production, higher labour income and new uses for electricity, consumption per capita increased so that in 1961 it was three times what it was in 1945; while residential consumption was almost five times what it had been. It was stated that the purpose of this study was to examine the relationships, if any, between the development of the electricity industry and technological change, new uses of electricity, the part played by government, and economic growth. New technology, while allowing for expansion in the electricity industry, has never been a decisive factor. However, throughout the study it is apparent that distinct relationships do exist between the development of the electricity industry and governmental action, new means of using electric power and economic growth.

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