Diamond Jubilee of the Ohinemuri County 1885 - 1945

Electricity Comes to Ohinemuri County and District


(By Mr. N. G. McLeod, Electrical Engineer to the Thames Valley Electric Power Board.)

{Owing to the limitation of space it is regretted that Mr. McLeod's excellent and most interesting article has had to be condensed and portions omitted, but for the purpose of this Diamond Jubilee Souvenir the following is a very brief resume. — Editor.}

One of the first steps towards the electrification of the Ohinemuri County with other parts of the Thames Valley District was the formation of the Thames Valley Electric Power League. The League was started by the late Mr. J. B. Thomas and Mr. F. M. Strange, who invited Mr. Tempest, electrical instructor at the Thames School of Mines, to address a meeting which they convened at Te Aroha. The idea was to obtain power from Horahora. This was prior to the passing of the Power Boards Act, 1918, and the purchase of Horahora by the Government. At a further meeting on May 13, 1919, also convened by Mr. Strange, Chairman of the League, and which was attended by representatives of local bodies in the district, it was decided to form a committee consisting of two representatives from each of the Ohinemuri, Matamata, Piako and Thames Counties, and the Thames, Paeroa, Waihi and Te Aroha Boroughs. The purpose of this Committee was to define boundaries of the proposed Power District and to set the machinery in motion for the constitution of same.

On June 16, 1919, a meeting of delegates from the following local bodies was held at Te Aroha:— Ohinemuri County, Messrs. P. Grace and F. M. Strange; Piako County, Mr. J. B. Thomas; Thames County, Mr. J. McCormick; Matamata County, Messrs. J. W. Anderson and E. C. Banks; Paeroa Borough, Messrs. F. E. Flatt and William Marshall; Thames Borough, Mr. F. H. Claxton; Te Aroha Borough, Mr. H. Jackson; Matamata Town District, Messrs. J. Price and R. Vosper; Morrinsville Town District, Messrs. L. H. McAlpine and F. E. Warner.

Mr. F. M. Strange was appointed Chairman, and Mr. Hugh Poland, M.P. for Ohinemuri, was present by invitation. Waihi Borough Council advised that it would not be represented, and Te Aroha Borough Council advised that it was opposed to being included in the Power Board's District as it already had an electric power service. It was agreed that the proposed Thames Valley Hydro-Electric Board consist of the areas included in the Counties of Ohinemuri, Piako, Thames and Matamata; the Boroughs of Paeroa, Thames and Te Aroha; and the Town Districts of Matamata and Morrinsville. It was also agreed that the Board be composed of the maximum number of members allowed by the Act.

The Thames Valley Electric Power Board

The Thames Valley Electric Power Board was duly formed and held its first meeting on February 18, 1920, when the following were present:— Messrs. P. Grace and F. M. Strange, Ohinemuri County; Messrs. J. Pohlen and J. W. Anderson, Matamata County; Messrs. J. B. Thomas and J. Bell, Piako County; Mr. F. E. Flatt, Paeroa Borough; Mr. C. A. Arthur, Te Aroha Borough; Mr. F. H. Claxton, Thames Borough; Mr. J. Price, Matamata and Morrinsville Town Districts combined.

Mr. F. M. Strange was elected Chairman of the Board; Mr. R. Sprague, late Assistant Clerk to the Ohinemuri County Council, clerk and treasurer; and Messrs. Gouvain [Gauvain - E] and McLeod, consulting engineers. Both Mr. Sprague and Mr. McLeod are still with the Board, having now given over 25 years' service. The former now holds the position as manager, and the latter chief engineer.

At this meeting the Board resolved to take advantage of the Electric Power Boards Act, 1918, to supply motors and fittings, and decided to urge upon the Minister to increase the number of units at Horahora. The first loan, £200,000, was authorised by the ratepayers, the voting being 1503 for and 28 against, and to date authority has been received from the ratepayers to raise a total of £1,015,000; of this amount £10,000 is yet to be lifted. Due to repayments the Board's present liability is down to £754,873.

Policy and Benefits

The electrification of the district has been rapid, yet the Board's policy has been to carry out such work only as will warrant the expenditure. This policy has resulted in certain isolated districts, many in the Ohinemuri County, being unable to be reticulated, but it is hoped that in the near future those districts will be able to have the facility of the power the same as the built-up areas. That the availability of electricity has been of direct assistance in the progress of those districts which were formerly practically idle land, cannot be doubted. The benefits previously associated only with town life, so far as the home was concerned, were now becoming freely available in country areas, which were almost inaccessible by road in the winter time.

Honour to Paeroa

Dealing more in detail with the growth of the load since the formation of the Board, it is of interest to note that the Paeroa Borough was the first town in New Zealand to receive a supply of electricity from a Power Board operating under the Electric Power Boards Act, 1918. Power was switched on in Paeroa at 8 p.m. on March 11, 1921, by the late Rt. Hon. J. G. Coates, then Minister of Public Works.

Good Progress

Work progressed in such a manner that electric power from the Board's mains was available at Te Aroha on September 3, 1921, Matamata on November 15, 1921, Morrinsville on March 10, 1922, Putaruru in August, 1922, and Ngatea and Thames in January, 1923. In January, 1923, Te Aroha Borough took power in bulk from the Board. Reticulation has been carried out beyond and between the above-mentioned places since the above dates, which indicates that soon after these dates places in the Ohinemuri County received the power. The following table shows the progress made by the Board up to March 31, 1945:—

Area of district in square miles 2300

Circuit miles of line erected 2562

Route miles of line constructed 1814

Connected load in k.w. 73,853

Total consumers 13,107

Thames Valley consumers 10,949

Total net revenue £192,918

Average revenue per unit sold 0.859d

Maximum demand in k.w. 10,665

Units of electricity sold 53,168,619

Number of poles erected 58,151

Milking machine motors 3,539

Other farm motors 3,985

Industrial motors 1,013

Electric water heaters 3,696

Electric ranges 6,658

Points of Supply

When the Board commenced operations bulk supply was available from the Public Works Department at only two Points, Horahora and Waikino. The Board now takes supply from five feed points: Lichfield, Matamata, Waihou, Waikino and Kerepeehi; all supplying the Board's load exclusively. The Public Works Department's line to the area is 50,000 volts, at present connected to Horahora in the south and Bombay in the north. A new 110,000-volt line is being run from Claudelands to Waihou, and should be in operation within the coming year. This will provide much greater security in supply and cater for increased load.

Chairmen of Board

The Board has had only three Chairmen during its 25 years — Mr. F. M. Strange from 1920 to 1923, Mr. F. H. Claxton, 1923 to 1926, and Mr. J. Price, the present Chairman, from 1926. In its Chairmen and members the Board has been most fortunate, as all of them have had considerable public and local body experience, many of them as Chairmen of the respective bodies which they represent.

Basis of Power Charges

When the Board commenced operations it adopted two separate systems of charge for electricity sold to its consumers. In towns and townships, and to all industrial consumers, electricity was sold by meter. In the country districts a flat rate system was applied. This latter system was probably unique so far as charging for electricity used by milking motors is concerned. In 1920 the roads in the area were very bad indeed, so bad that even in fine weather a journey which can now be comfortably done in an hour then took two or three hours to accomplish, and was very far from pleasurable. It was because of these difficulties and the consequent expense involved in reading meters in such districts that the Board adopted the flat rate for the country areas. This flat rate was £15 per annum per 2 h.p. milking motor, plus one-third penny for each pound of butterfat produced in excess of 5000lbs. per annum. Consumers had the right, in addition, to run their water pump, skim milk pump and separator from the same motor with no extra charge. Complaints were numerous, but investigations were made by the Board and suggestions offered to consumers how to economise, a reverse of the function of a supply authority. The Board showed a large deficit in the following year, but in subsequent years it made excellent progress. Metering was practically completed by 1930, and now all electricity is sold by meter, the result being a considerable reduction in the Board's demand for power from the Public Works Department's system.

War Conditions

The Second World War has had considerable effect on the development of electricity, particularly in the North Island. Expected increases in generating capacity did not materialise, and rationing of the supply had to be imposed. A little relief may be expected when Karapiro generating station is completed, but normal conditions cannot be expected until Maraetai station is functioning. Up to 1943 all water heaters were on a flat rate system of charge, but, due to Government regulations, these have been metered since the end of that year, further reducing the Board's demand for power. This has not had, as was feared, a detrimental effect on the products of the dairy industry; on the other hand factory managers have since stated that the quality of their produce has never been better. This metering of water heaters has automatically been the main help in assisting the serious shortage of electricity during the winter of this year and in enabling the Board to keep within the limits set. In fact, the Thames Valley Board did not have to disconnect one feeder during that period, as most Supply Authorities did in order to keep within the limits. Consumers have expressed appreciation for this continuous service.

No Increase In Charges

The Board's charges have never been raised, although some consumers may have thought so during a changeover of system of charge. On the contrary, they have consistently fallen. The average price per unit sold in 1925 was about 2½d; the price for 1945 was approximately 0.86d, or just one-third of the 1925 price.

Future Prospects

The inducement to use electricity becomes greater each year in spite of prejudices or preferences a person may have. What the future may hold is difficult to predict. If the pre-war rate of increase continued the whole of the North Island water power will have been absorbed in the next 12 years. The prospects for the electrical future of this district are bright. The development has been handled on sound financial lines and the Board is in a good financial position. National benefit is the ultimate result, and the Thames Valley Electric Power Board is here to assist in attaining that end.

The present Board is comprised of the following:—

Mr. J. Price (Chairman), Matamata Borough and Putaruru Town Board;

Mr. T. A. Barrett, Ohinemuri County;

Mr. H. L. Boughton, Waihi Borough;

Mr. W. A. Clark, Thames and Te Aroha Boroughs;

Mr. H. M. Corbett, Piako County;

Mr. W. S. Goosman, Morrinsville Borough;

Mr. P. R. Hawke, Matamata County;

Mr. W. C. Kennedy, Piako County;

Mr. J. F. Mayn, Hauraki Plains County;

Mr. A. A. McCollum, Thames County;

Mr. J. Pohlen, Matamata County;

and Mr. C. C. Webb, Paeroa Borough.