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When Waddamana power came to aid of burgeoning city

On 30 September 1922, hydro-electricity from the state government’s upgraded power station at Waddamana reached Launceston’s Cataract Hill sub-station for the first time.

Work had started on the 90-kilometre transmission line in March after the Launceston Municipal Council signed a bulk electricity supply contract with the Hydro-Electric Department.

The council was responding to concerns that its hydro-electric power station at Duck Reach on the South Esk River would not be able to cope with the growing demand for electricity in the city.

The state government saw the connection as part of its “grand scheme” of making hydro-electric power available for industrial development and civic improvement to all parts of Tasmania.

In 1895 Launceston had become the first city in Australia to provide street lighting and reticulated electricity from its hydro-electric power station.

The Duck Reach Power Scheme was a source of great civic pride and there were some residents who didn’t want the city reliant on electricity from the state government.

However, the Launceston Municipal Council’s electricity generating capacity, even after a major upgrade, was 2600hp from Duck Reach and 450hp from the council’s steam plant at Invermay.

This was proving to be barely enough at times of high demand.

After several years of low rainfall, the council had asked the Hydro-Electric Department in 1920 to help it build a dam at Arthur’s Lake to ensure a reliable river flow in the South Esk River.

Preliminary work was started but the council, under considerable pressure to provide an adequate electricity supply for the city, signed a contract with the Hydro-Electric Department for 3000hp of power at an annual cost of £16,500.

The transmission line from Waddamana to Launceston traversed some of Tasmania’s roughest country but The Examiner said the power was urgently needed.

“Messrs Patons and Baldwins (Australasia) Ltd., who are erecting spinning mills, have contracted to take 480 horse-power per annum. Messrs Kelsall and Kemp's woollen mills at lnvermay, which are being rapidly pushed on with, will absorb another 400 horse-power.

“When the Lead Sulphate Ltd were operating at their works at Inveresk they had made provision for the supply of 400 horse-power. The proposal to duplicate the existing plant has caused the directors to approach the City Council for another block of 400 horse-power.”

The Examiner said the three industries would absorb nearly 1700 of the extra 3000 horse-power and the new railway workshops when completed at the end of the year would also take a large block.

“Little will be left for the Corporation's requirements, which have been subjected to a serious shortage during the past two or three winters.”

However, it was some months before Waddamana electricity flowed in Launceston because on 9 October 1922 a hurricane-fierce storm swept through the area between Cressy and Longford and badly damaged 30 of the 15m steel transmission line towers.

Written for the Launceston Historical Society, published in The Sunday Examiner, 9 October 2022.

Images -- TOP: Waddamana power station 2020 (copyright Julian Burgess). MIDDLE: The new Cataract Hill sub-station. Weekly Courier, 7 December 1922. BOTTOM: Waddamana turbine hall 2020 (copyright Julian Burgess).


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