Saskatchewan Builds an Electrical System
White, Clinton Oliver
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During the 1890's, within a decade of the establishment of the world's first central generating stations, similar installations appeared in what later became Saskatchewan. Following the granting of provincial status, power plants serving single communities sprang up at scattered locations. Meanwhile, technological advances in the field of electrical transmission made it possible to generate power where energy sources existed (at hydroelectric sites, coal fields, gas wells) and transmit it to a number of communities or industries where it was in demand. Integrated electrical systems comprising many miles of high-voltage line and more than one generating station thus took shape. The first proposal for the creation of such a system in Saskatchewan came in 1912. Others were put forward during the 'twenties and 'thirties but not until the 'fifties did construction finally get under way. Then within a decade, not only were hundreds of miles of heavy transmission line and a number < of modern generating stations erected, but a multitude of small urban communities were electrified and a massive program of farm electrification was completed. Why did Saskatchewan wait so long before establishing a modern power system? The standard explanation is that it could not be done any sooner because of such impediments as the depression and World War II. This is far from the truth. Politics was an important cause. Though it was impracticable to effect the scheme outlined in 1912, such was not true of later ones. During the early 'twenties the Province asked an expert if it was economically advisable to begin construction of an integrated system. The answer was yes. As a result, the Government appointed a royal commission to study the whole field of electrification and make recommendations. The commissioners reached the same conclusions as the expert, advising the Government, verbally at least, to commence building an integrated system at once, plainly intending to recommend such action in their report. However, political considerations entered the picture, and they were prevailed upon to change their recommendations. Consequently, at the behest of the Government the commission urged it to take steps which can be interpreted only as leading to economic waste and which would retard rather than expedite development of the province's resources. In 1928 the Government began instituting some of the commission's recommendations. Additional political decisions soon assured that the system it built would be little more than a showpiece to which politicians could point as evidence that they were following their declared policy of public ownership. While the commission was conducting its inquiry, a number of private utility companies purchased the electrical systems serving dozens of communities. Soon thereafter a publicly owned utility, established in 1929, did likewise. Meanwhile some municipalities retained their utilities. As a result, the utility field was divided among various owners whose operations were governed by little in the way of overall logic. Hence, it was impossible to establish any large power system without a good deal of cooperation or a major rearrangement in the own er ship of property. As if that was not bad enough, planning for such a system was virtually ruled out when the Government secretly assigned zones to the public and private utilities. Not long afterwards, when a private company made proposals somewhat similar to the original recommendations of the royal commission,which if instituted would have represented a major step forward technically and economically, they were rejected because certain individuals failed to examine their merits. Even when integration was finally carried out, it could have been accomplished more economically and on a more equitable basis had it not been for political considerations.