Know your Perth history: electricity

Friday, April 1, 2016 2:26 pm
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Mike Atkinson | Drive producer

Without electricity our streets would be pitch black after sunset, you wouldn’t be able to watch your favourite TV show or read this article, and forget Facebook, in fact, forget the whole Internet!

Almost all of us can’t remember a time where the socket in the wall didn’t exist, so in this week’s Know your Perth history segment we take a look at how electricity was installed in Perth.

  • Electricity was introduced to Western Australia by the enterprising Mr C.J. Otte and his company, the Western Australian Electric Light and Power Company, in 1888.
  • A small electric plant with a 40 horsepower portable engine and 15kW dynamo was installed in Mr Otte’s premises next to the Criterion Hotel in Howick Street (now Hay Street) Perth.
  • In the same year, a small generation plant was installed at Government House to light the Ball Room.
  • Perth Town Hall became the first building to receive a permanent electricity supply in Western Australia on 4 December 1891. This was soon followed by Midland Railway Works and the chamber of the Legislative Assembly.
  • In 1892, the first electric street light was erected by the WA Electric Light and Power Company.
  • The Perth Gas Company operated the state’s first power station from Wellington Street in 1894.
  • The power station (110 volts direct current) supplied electricity to the Perth Town Hall, Wesley Church and Wigg & Son in King Street, who were wholesale manufacturing stationers, printers, bookbinders, paper and twine merchants.
  • It is interesting to note that even in those times, there was market competition between gas and electricity — and gas was well established.
  • Perth people enjoyed an electric tram service, which began to operate in the city from 1899.

A tram in the 1920s, heading north in Barrack Street bound for Walcott Street

  • Electricity was mainly used for lighting in the home during the first half of the twentieth century and WA’s first electric stove was introduced in Kalgoorlie in 1905 by Curle Smith, who devised and patented his own version of the new-fangled invention.
  • In 1913, construction commenced on WA’s first major power station, the East Perth Power Station.
  • The site of East Perth was chosen because coal could easily be delivered there by rail and because the enormous quantities of cooling water required could be easily drawn from the Swan River. Construction was completed in 1916 at a total cost of £538,000.
  • In the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s, new power generators were added to the facility to meet the city’s growing demand for power.

Source: Western Power/East Perth Power Station in the 1920s

  • In 1968 the station converted from coal to oil, but six years later returned to coal fired.
  • The station was decommissioned and closed in December 1981, as more advanced and cheaper methods of electricity generation made the facility redundant.
  • The State Electricity Commission (SEC) was formed in 1945 following the sharp increase of customers’ electricity demands after World War II.
  • Its mission was to create a high-voltage transmission grid with the ability to carry power over long distances.
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