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Power at Cost

Power at Cost: Ontario Hydro and Rural Electrification, 1911-1958

Copyright Date: 1992
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Power at Cost
    Book Description:

    Hydro responded to demands from residents of farms and hamlets for a fair share of the "public power" that was being distributed to municipalities in southwestern Ontario in 1910. It extended its transmission lines along the back concessions of the region, developed new agrarian applications for electricity, and devised a rural rate schedule capable of attracting new customers and encouraging electrical consumption. Provincial government funds were allocated to Hydro for rural development in the 1920s and moderate growth was maintained until World War II interrupted the rural construction program. After the war, however, rural electrification in southern Ontario progressed rapidly until 1958 when provincial money for that region was substantially reduced and Hydro redirected its attention to the needs of the North.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-6310-0
    Subjects: Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xi)
  4. Maps
    (pp. xii-2)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Introduction
    (pp. 3-19)

    Early in 1946, an article in theFamily Herald and Weekly Starof Montreal provided a futuristic account of what farm life would be like in the year 1990, once hydroelectricity had become commonplace in the homes and workplaces of rural Canada.¹ Set on the imaginary “Swampy Acres” farm of Timothy Buckwheat, the article described in idyllic detail the myriad ways in which electrically powered domestic appliances and farm machinery would revolutionize rural life. Jules Verne, it would seem, had donned coveralls. Farmer Buckwheat was awakened in the morning by an electrically controlled mechanical hand that gently stroked his head...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Laying the Foundations
    (pp. 20-38)

    The hepc’s rapid expansion among the towns and cities of Old Ontario was no guarantee of similar success in rural areas, so dissimilar were the two markets. On turning their attention to the rural market in 1911, the Commission’s engineers struggled with an entirely new set of questions. Was it reasonable to apply the same standard of “power at cost” to city and country alike, and if so, how should rural rates be structured? Was hydroelectricity sufficiently adaptable to the type of agriculture practised in southern Ontario to make a contract with the hepc an attractive investment for individual farmers?...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Rural Power Districts and the Municipal Connection
    (pp. 39-54)

    After the armistice of November 1918, the hepc prepared to revive the program of rural extensions cut short by the war. The fresh start was also marked by a significant change in approach. Hitherto, serving the farming community had been considered a separate goal. Hydro had simply announced the minimum number of farm contracts necessary in any given area and the price of the electricity; if farm density were high, and the distance to an existing transmission line short, the cost of service might be low enough to enable local farmers to justify the expenditure. The Commission’s brief experience had...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Uniform Rate and Rural Bonuses
    (pp. 55-73)

    By the end of the Great War, certain municipalities in the hepc’s distribution system had become disenchanted because provincial power had failed to improve significantly their economic fortunes. Of course Hydro provided them with a reasonably reliable source of energy at rates generally lower than those otherwise available. But the hepc’s propaganda, combined with lingering frustration at their inability to compete with the larger communities comprising the “Hydro-rich” core at the western end of Lake Ontario, had led them to expect more.

    Many smaller towns and villages regarded hydroelectricity as the key to a new beginning. It was generally acknowledged...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Consolidating the Rural Network
    (pp. 74-99)

    More than a decade after the hepc had first investigated in 1911 the possibility of including farm and hamlet customers in its distribution system, southern Ontario’s rural power market remained largely undeveloped. Nor had the hepc made clear the extent to which it intended to share this market with privately owned power companies. Since its competitors for the rural clientele were neither many nor mighty, Hydro had been able to concentrate on designing its own rural program without worrying about losing valuable ground to aggressive rivals. Yet the dearth of truly threatening competition did not produce complacency in the Commission....

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Battle for the Bruce
    (pp. 100-125)

    The earliest hydroelectric developments in Ontario were of very modest size. Often a limited area was served by a generating plant running off a small head of water and producing one or two hundred horsepower. All this changed, however, once technological developments in the early twentieth century made it possible to harness tens of thousands of horsepower and transmit the energy over hundreds of miles. In short order, the small rural power distributor seemed doomed to extinction. Conversely, few now doubted that the key to lower rates in so capital-intensive an industry was to expand productive capacity constantly.¹

    Not least...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Remnants of Discontent and Political Plums
    (pp. 126-153)

    By the end of the 1920s, the future of rural electrification in Ontario clearly rested with the hepc. Most of the private power producers who traditionally had served rural areas had largely failed, even in the absence of competition, to develop technical and financial resources capable of withstanding a challenge from the rapidly expanding Hydro monolith.¹ Increasingly, the independent distributors who survived did so because the provincial commission felt no compelling urge to encroach on their tiny markets, not because they enjoyed a competitive advantage.

    The hepc’s undisputed dominance proved a mixed blessing. For those living within the most accessible...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Responses to the Depression
    (pp. 154-176)

    The Depression did not so much create new problems for the hepc’s rural electrification program as aggravate many old ones. Even during relatively prosperous times, Hydro had struggled to overcome the rural community’s financial limitations. After 1929, however, as farm incomes plummeted and indebtedness grew, attracting new customers became more challenging than ever. The Commission could conceivably have postponed expansion and waited for economic fortunes to revive. But Hydro also, for the first half of the 1930s at least, had on hand a large surplus of energy for which it needed a market. If this power surplus were to be...

  13. Illustrations
    (pp. None)
  14. CHAPTER NINE The Rural System during the Second World War
    (pp. 177-196)

    After Canada declared war on Germany on 10 September 1939, Ontario was soon on the road to economic recovery. In short order, the chronic unemployment and underused productive capacity that had characterized the 1930s became labour and materials shortages. In the hepc’s Rural System, however, events did not mirror what was happening in the economy as a whole. In fact, the war placed a new set of obstacles in the way of rural electrification, more burdensome even than those encountered during the Depression. The problem stemmed from the hepc’s loss of autonomy. In the First World War, Adam Beck had...

  15. CHAPTER TEN Sarnia and the Uniform Rate Revisited
    (pp. 197-220)

    Modest growth was achieved in the Rural System during both the Depression and the Second World War, though for different reasons. In both periods the hepc and successive provincial governments laboured under severe restraints – financial, political, and attitudinal – which limited their ability to act in relation to rural electrification. Furthermore, both parties came to accept, by implication at least, that the major expansion program first envisaged in the 1920s would have to await the return of peace and normal economic conditions. At the same time, it remained the conventional wisdom that success in the rural program had to...

  16. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Five Year Plan
    (pp. 221-247)

    The hepc began planning for post-war rural electrification in January 1944. Even though the Commission’s engineers could only guess at the probable size of farm incomes, or the availability of appliances and construction materials, they insisted that the Rural System must undertake a record-breaking construction program the moment the wicb’s constraints were lifted. They suggested, for instance, that during the first few years following the war, 1,500 miles of primary transmission lines, to serve 6,000 customers, should be built annually. In addition, 4,000 consumers should be added to existing lines. The total cost of this ambitious undertaking was estimated at...

  17. CHAPTER TWELVE Conclusion
    (pp. 248-260)

    One important step in any society’s advance to modernization is the moment at which it secures a reliable and affordable supply of electrical energy. No society, regardless of its other political, economic, or technological attainments, can be deemed fully modern without possessing this essential service. A useful index for measuring the modernization of rural southern Ontario, therefore, is to be found in the pace at which it adopted the electrical services of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario.

    A tiny minority of the province’s rural residents began to avail themselves of electricity’s labour-saving amenities soon after the publicly owned hepc...

  18. APPENDIX A Premiers of Ontario, 1905–1985
    (pp. 261-261)
  19. APPENDIX B Officials of the hepc, 1906–1974
    (pp. 262-263)
  20. APPENDIX C Rate Classifications for Rural Customers, 1909–1970
    (pp. 264-265)
  21. APPENDIX D Statistical Summary of the Rural System in Southern Ontario, 1912–1971
    (pp. 266-268)
  22. Abbreviations
    (pp. 269-270)
  23. Notes
    (pp. 271-308)
  24. Bibliography
    (pp. 309-316)
  25. Index
    (pp. 317-326)