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War Economy

Early Restraints on the Use of Power

Early Restraints on the Use of Power

The need for restraint in the use of electric power became apparent in 1940 in the North Island. Demand, at times of peak loads, threatened to exceed generating capacity. Demand, moreover, was increasing rapidly with no prospect of any adequate increase in generating capacity.

In March 1941 the Electricity Controller asked supply authorities in the North Island to regulate their loads so as to keep their weekly use of energy to not more than 4 per cent above 1940. In the meantime, restraint on consumers would be by persuasion rather than rationing, but the Controller made it clear that whether rationing would be necessary or not depended on the amount of rain.

page 431

‘… However, this could not be foretold. The balance of power required above that produced by hydro-stations would come from steam-operated plants at King's Wharf, Auckland, and Evans Bay, Wellington.

‘Big problems were presented in the operation of these plants, particularly when running to full capacity, said Mr Kissel. An undertaking had already been given that the Evans Bay plant would be supplied with its needs of coal. King's Wharf operated on Waikato or Southland slack coal. A request had been made for an increase in slack coal production from 40,000 to 180,000 tons yearly. This was a great increase for any industry to face.

‘Though the Coal Controller made valiant efforts last winter and was able to meet the demand, Mr Kissel was a little apprehensive that he might not be able to do so in the coming winter. However, instead of 180,000 tons as estimated 6 months ago it was now believed that 130,000 tons might be sufficient. The rate of increase in the demand for electricity might still further drop. A 7 ½ per cent increase in the demand would mean that 127,000 tons would be required for King's Wharf. The Coal Controller, while giving no guarantee, said he could deliver this.’1

As a measure to save electric power, daylight saving, which normally concluded on the last Sunday in April, was extended throughout the winter, starting in 1941; and in May of this year the Electricity Controller arranged a radio campaign to persuade the public to economise in the use of power. By these means the supply authorities struggled through the 1941 winter without any serious breakdown.

In May 1942, following a spell of cold weather, the power situation in the North Island became serious, requirements being too high during the peak hours of 4 p.m. to 6 p.m., which took the brunt of the normal cooking load. This brought about the first statutory enactment against users, the Electricity Control Order 1942, which forbade the use of electric radiators and space heaters in business premises or places of amusement during these peak hours.2 To back up this measure the Factory Controller, on 24 June, issued an Order prohibiting the manufacture and sale of radiators and of practically all domestic electrical appliances.3

A ministerial statement on 11 June 19424 summed up the circumstances leading to these restrictions:

1 Reported in Evening Post, 7 March 1941.

2 The restrictions applied from Mondays to Fridays, in the North Island only.

3 The Electrical Appliances Control Notice, 1942.

4 Evening Post, 12 June 1942.

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‘… In a joint statement issued last night the Minister of Supply (Mr Sullivan) and the Minister of Public Works (Mr Armstrong) said that the present position with regard to the supply of electricity from the Government system in the North Island had become critical. Due to the colder weather and the shorter days, demand for electricity had suddenly increased, and the generating stations in the North Island were working to full capacity. In addition to the hydro-stations, the fuel stations, large and small, were fully loaded at peak times, which at this time of the year were between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m.

‘“… It is also necessary that economy be practised in the use of electricity at all times,” added the Ministers. “A very large amount of oil is being used to generate electricity and this has to be imported, and this means the use of ships.1 Coal, which is required for industries and householder use is also being used at the rate of hundreds of tons a week. It is, therefore, incumbent on every user of electricity to avoid waste, and thereby help to avoid irksome rationing and interruptions in the supply of electricity, so assisting New Zealand's national economy under wartime conditions.”‘

For the winter of 1943, prospects for electrical supply were somewhat improved by the installation of the first generating unit of 20,000 kilowatts at Piripaua in December 1942.2 Despite a number of difficulties it was decided to allow supply authorities an increase in allocation of 4 per cent on their 1942 usage. But demand moved inexorably upwards and, with all stations becoming overloaded, further restrictions were soon necessary.

On the occasion of a temporary breakdown of one of the generating units at the Arapuni Station,3 the Minister of Works, Mr Semple, and the Minister of Supply and Munitions, Mr Sullivan, joined in saying, in June 1943: ‘The whole electrical generating system has been working under a severe strain, producing a very much higher level than the system could be expected to carry continuously. An appeal is made to everybody to economise in the consumption of electric power to the utmost extent possible so as to avoid the only alternative, which is the complete stoppage of

1 For example, the steam generating plant at Evans Bay used 26,000 tons of coal and 10,000 tons of oil in 1942. (Author's footnote.)

2 A second unit was installed in 1943, bringing the station to its full capacity of 40,000 kilowatts.

3 Arapuni had six units at the outbreak of war. Two more were added to cope with increasing demand during the war. In these years Arapuni was generating over half the North Island power supply.

page 433 power in some districts during certain periods of the day….’
black and white photograph of launching ship

the controller of shipbuilding speaks at a launching
Outstanding among the wartime economic controllers was Mr (later Sir) James Fletcher, Commissioner of Defence Construction and later Controller of Shipbuilding

black and white photograph of timber delivery

kauri for shipbuilding
A coastal scow delivers a cargo of kauri and other New Zealand timber

black and white photograph of ship construction

prefabrication speeds shipbuilding
Prefabricated keels of tow-boats ready for transport to an Auckland shipyard

black and white photograph of new tug boats

ships for the united states forces
Launching New Zealand built tow-boats, Auckland, August 1943

black and white photograph of pensioner working

plugging the manpower gaps
Many older and retired people returned to industry. An 83-year-old cutting metal for Army buckets

black and white photograph of woman working lathe

women in men's jobs
Engineering industries made munitions and a variety of essential

black and white photograph of dam

wartime hydro-electric development
The Karapiro Station, commenced in 1940, was continued under considerable difficulties during the war, but did not begin generating until 1947

black and white photograph of crowd

fund-raising campaigns
£242 million was raised by loans in New Zealand for war purposes

Restrictions imposed in 1943 and 1944 included reduction of radio broadcasting hours, metering of water heaters, and restrictions on non-essential lighting in shop windows and under verandahs.

Power shortages became progressively worse over the war years and in due course threatened to restrict the productive capacity of industry.

Chart 73 shows the increase in use of electric power for various purposes from 1939 to 1946.

chart of electricity sales

Chart 73
INDEX NUMBERS: BASE 1938-39 = 1000