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[ ORIGINAL SCHEME I EARLY CONCESSIONS I CHEAPER POWER I HARPER CONTRACT AND RAND MINES POWER SUPPLY CO I POWER COMPANIES COMMISSION I FOUR POWER STATIONS BUILT I TERMS OF SUPPLY I COMPRESSED AIR SUPPLIES I LAYOUT OF THE TRANSMISSION SYSTEM I POWER STATION PLANT LAYOUT I OTHER SERVICES I 1922 RAND REVOLT I MERZ AND MCLELLAN REPORTS - ESCOM ESTABLISHED I WITBANK POWER STATION I DISASTERS IN 1925 AND 1927 I KLIP AND VAAL POWER STATIONS I TAKE-OVER BY ESCOM I STAFF I BIBLIOGRAPHY ]


ORIGINAL SCHEME

The Victoria Falls Power Company, Limited, generally known as the VFP, was formed at the end of 1906. It intended to supply electrical power in South Africa and Rhodesia [now Zimbabwe] and to acquire the concessional rights to develop the potential of the Victoria Falls. This was estimated to be 250 000 horsepower [190 MW] at minimum flow of the river. Supply to the Rand would be given by transmitting power from the Falls over a distance of approximately 1100 km, and partly by steam generating stations located on the Reef. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:2)

This original proposal was subsequently modified by giving up the plan to supply part of the requirements with power from the Victoria Falls. After the Boer War, there was an urgent need for more power and there was no time to develop the Falls scheme. The increase in the coal supplies in the Transvaal had brought about a reduction in the price of local fuel, and various parties with vested interests had objections to the importation of power from outside the Transvaal. The Transvaal Government also feared that importing hydro-electric power from outside the territory would upset the local coal mining industry as well as the finances of the State railways. These were among the principal reasons for delaying the development of the Falls scheme until the population had increased, or until the demand for manufacturing sites with cheap electric power from the Falls justified the expenditure. It was therefore decided to supply the Witwatersrand from steam plant using local coal, at least as an interim measure. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:2; Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:23; Troost and Norman, Electricity Supply in South Africa 1909-1969:177)

The VFP did eventually build a small power station on the south bank of the Victoria Falls. It was commissioned in March 1938 and provided power for local supplies. (Symphony of Power 2000:30, 145)


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EARLY CONCESSIONS

Siemens and Halske were the first to obtain a concession in 1894, and formed the Rand Central Electric Works, Ltd, in 1895, which had a plant aggregating 3,2 MW capacity by 1906. Another concession was obtained by the Simmer and Jack Mine in 1897, from which the General Electric Power Company was established. In 1906 this concern had a capacity of 2,5 MW at the Driehoek Power Station. In 1905 Messrs. Lewis and Marks, having in view the possibility of supplying the Rand from their coal fields at Vereeniging, commenced obtaining way-leaves for a pole line, while certain manufacturing companies sent out representatives to report on the prospects. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:2)

The Victoria Falls Power Company ultimately took over the two existing supply companies in 1907, and purchased the Vereeniging way-leaves from Messrs. Lewis and Marks. At the same time they entered into an agreement with them for the right to establish a power station at Vereeniging. In 1907, pending the installation of modern turbine-driven plant, a supply of 4 MW was given from the existing steam stations that had been purchased. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:3)


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CHEAPER POWER FROM LARGE MODERN TURBO-ALTERNATORS

The Rand Central Electric Works and the General Electric Power Company's Driehoek Power Station had both failed to compete with the cost of steam power in the mines. Their prices were about 2 pence per unit, which was more than twice that of steam power in the mines. Using large modern turbo-alternators, the VFP would offer power at not much more than 0,5 pence per unit. (Report of the Power Companies Commission 1909:10 (T.G. 13-'10); Fenwick and Torr 1961:24)

As soon as it was appreciated that a considerably cheaper power supply would be available, the mining groups entered into contracts with the Company. The demands for power increased so quickly that it became difficult for the Company to raise capital and install plant rapidly enough to satisfy the demand. The Company had for several years in succession to provide funds at the rate of £1 million per annum for extending its plant and system. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:3; Bernard Price, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Aug 1941:270)


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THE HARPER CONTRACT AND ESTABLISHMENT OF THE RAND MINES POWER SUPPLY CO

WA Harper, an eminent British consulting engineer, came to South Africa in 1908 to give evidence on behalf of the Contractors in the arbitration case resulting from the rejection of the gas engine plant installed by the Johannesburg Municipality. He noticed that although the VFP had entered into agreements with several of the Mining Groups, it had not yet made any contract with the largest group, the Rand Mines, Limited and Eckstein and Co, which later became the Central Mining and Investment Corporation, Ltd. In 1908 this Group decided to change their mines over to electric driving. Harper therefore made a contract with the Group, which he might either put into effect or dispose of to others. He was unable to raise the necessary capital, and approached the VFP. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:3; Rider, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1915:609; Bernard Price, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Aug 1941:270)

The Central Mining-Rand Mines Group had agreed to purchase the whole of their power requirements of electrical energy and compressed air for a period of 12 years and to shut down all their existing boiler plant. The VFP acquired the benefits of the contract from Harper and proceeded to negotiate with the Central Mining-Rand Mines Group with a view to improving on its terms. The VFP were successful in obtaining the extension of the contract from 12 to 20 years, and had 15 mines included in the Group instead of 12. There were other mines that were not bound in the same way, but they contracted to take electricity from no other power company, and to continue to take any supply required by them exclusively from the VFP. There was a further stipulation in the case of the Central Mining-Rand Mines Group that the supply should be given by a company to be formed for the purpose and registered in the Transvaal. The VFP had been registered in Rhodesia [Zimbabwe] on 17 October 1906. This led to the registration of the Rand Mines Power Supply Company, Limited (also known as the RMPS), the VFP providing the entire capital for the company. The formation of a separate power company was due to the fact that the Group wished to secure a separate generating and supply plant upon which their mines would have first call. (SA Mining Journal, 13 Mar 1909:3; Report of the Power Companies Commission 1909:11-13 (T.G. 13-'10); Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:3; Rider, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1915:609)

The Victoria Falls Power Co changed its name to the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Co in 1909, but was still known as the VFP. The RMPS Co and the VFP Co were worked under two separate licences granted by the Government in terms of the Power Act passed in 1910, but were operated by the same management and staff. The systems supplying the power were kept as distinct as possible, the overhead and underground transmission and distribution systems being separate from one another. It was the intention that when both companies had their full plant installed, the systems would not be linked, except in times of emergency when either power company could assist the other. But by 1914 the systems were still interconnected and, from an engineering point of view, could be treated as one undertaking. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:3; Rider, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1915:609)


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POWER COMPANIES COMMISSION

The Transvaal Colonial Government appointed a Commission of Enquiry, on 1 May 1909, to report upon "The desirability of the establishment of large electric power companies in the Transvaal, and the probable effect of such companies on …industry ...the Railways …agriculture …labour …and the country generally." Mr. Harper and Professor Klingenberg, joint consulting engineer for the new plant of the VFP and the RMPS Co, were among those examined. The report of the Commission was submitted in April 1910. The Commission found that large power companies were desirable, provided they were under proper government supervision. This led to the introduction of The Transvaal Power Act of 1910. The State viewed the provision of electricity as a public service to be placed under its authority. (SA Mining Journal, May 1909:271, June 1909:409, April 1910:94; Report of the Power Companies Commission 1909 (T.G. 13-'10); Bernard Price, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Aug 1941:270; Symphony of Power 2000:44)


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FOUR POWER STATIONS BUILT

At the end of 1906 the Rand Central Electric Works, Ltd, had planned to add extensions to their station, but this was not done because the VFP took the plant over. The new Brakpan Power Station was built instead, alongside the Rand Central Electric Works. Another station was built by the VFP at Simmerpan and the two stations were interconnected. Brakpan started generating in 1908 and Simmerpan in 1909.

The availability of water restricted the choice of sites to artificial pans [or lakes] situated along the reef and to the Vaal River, which ran parallel to the reef and about 55 km to the south. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:4)

When the contract with the Central Mining-Rand Mines Group was concluded, a site for a new station was selected at the Rosherville Dam. This station would supply electricity and compressed air to the Group, and was therefore built by the RMPS Co. Construction began in 1909 and generation started in 1911.

Coal was available at Brakpan and at Springs on the Witwatersrand and at Vereeniging on the Vaal River. There was also coal at Witbank about 100 km to the east of the eastern extremity of the gold fields. All coal sources had rail connections with the gold mines and the direct link between Apex and Witbank had been completed at the end of 1906. (Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:1)

The VFP had agreed to build a power station at Vereeniging and to use the duff coal that was accumulating there. Since demand at Rosherville was outstripping supply, it was decided that the RMPS Co should also build the station at Vereeniging. Operation commenced in 1912 and the station was interconnected with Rosherville by means of the first 80 kV transmission line in South Africa. Vereeniging Power Station was also the first in the world to be sited on a coal field. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:4-17; Jacobs AM, The Development of Electrical Power Supply in the Union of South Africa, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Aug 1941:259-260; Troost and Norman, Electricity Supply in South Africa 1909-1969:177-8)

By 1912 plant totalling nearly 160 MW was installed as follows:
Brakpan Two 3 MW sets
Simmerpan Six 3 MW sets
Rosherville Five 9,6 MW sets and six 3,5 MW steam-driven air compressors and three 7 MW steam-driven air compressors under construction
Vereeniging Two 9,6 MW sets and two 12 MW sets
Robinson Central

Six electrically driven air compressors each of 3,5 MW capacity

(Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:4-5); Otley and Pickles, In: Journal of the SA Institution of Engineers, Jan 1917:90-98)

Other large sources of generation in 1914 comprised plant at the Randfontein Estates Gold Mines amounting to 26 MW [including three 6 MW and three 2 MW sets], at the East Rand Proprietary Mines 19,95 MW [including a 3 MW set, a 6 MW set and a 6,6 MW set], and 13,25 MW at Johannesburg Municipality [including three 3 MW turbines]. (SA Mining Journal, Nov 1914:167)


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TERMS OF SUPPLY

The chief mining groups contracted for an electrical power supply for periods of 20 or 12 years. Supplies were given at 2100 volts and 525 volts. The standard price in the mining contracts covering not less than 12 years was 0,525 pence per unit. The introduction of these prices reduced the cost of power to the mines by about 40% below the cost of power from their own steam engines. It resulted in reducing the cost of gold production from between 6 and 12 pence per ton of ore milled. It also resulted in a considerable saving of capital expenditure to the mines. (SA Mining Journal, 13 Mar 1909:3; Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:4)


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COMPRESSED AIR SUPPLIES

About a quarter of the power demand of a mine was in the form of compressed air, which was used for the operation of jackhammers, pumping and ventilation. In addition to the supply of electricity to the Central Mining-Rand Mines Group, the conditions called for the supply of compressed air. The agreement made in 1908 for the bulk supply to the Group was to take effect from 1st October 1910. The start was delayed because some machinery was lost in a shipwreck. It was not until August 1914 that the RMPS Co was able to supply the entire compressed air load, and up to that date some of the old steam compressors on the mines were still used. From 1911, compressed air was also supplied by the VFP to the Gold Fields Group from the Brakpan Power Station, where the compressors were installed in the building that previously housed the plant of the Rand Central Electric Works.

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Robinson Compressor Station
(The electrically driven air compressors had a capacity of 14 000 hp)

The VFP and RMPS established a scheme for the production and distribution of compressed air on a much larger scale than had been attempted anywhere else in the world. An extensive pipework reticulation system was installed, which eventually comprised over 70 km of piping, some of it 27,5 inches in diameter. Certain sections were buried and others laid in open trenches supported on concrete stools. The compressed air plant totalled over 117 MW when taken over by Escom in 1948.(SA Mining Journal, Jan 1909:1299, May 1909:329, Aug 1909:675, Sep 1910:121, Feb 1911:947; Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:3; Rider, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1915:610; Bernard Price, In: Journal of the South African Institution of Engineers, Aug 1916:6-7 and South African Engineer and Electrical Review, Oct 1941:7; Escom Annual Report 1948; Draper 1967:124-7)


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LAYOUT OF THE TRANSMISSION SYSTEM

The lay-out of the VFP and RMPS systems comprised a narrow strip of the country running from east to west for about 80 km. The 40 kV system formed an artery running from Bantjes (Florida) in the west to Brakpan in the east. This was fed from Brakpan Power Station at the eastern end and Rosherville and Simmerpan near the centre. The terminal of the 80 kV transmission from Vereeniging was at Robinson Central, which was a little to the west of Johannesburg. In order to reduce the capital costs of the two power companies, it was agreed that certain of the mines, lying at the extreme east and west, should be supplied from the electrical system of the VFP on behalf of the RMPS Co. Certain other mines that were customers of the VFP, would similarly be supplied by the RMPS Co. The transmission and distribution circuits were equipped with Merz-Price relay systems, an automatic system of discrimination between circuit breakers. This system had been developed by Bernard Price while he was working as chief electrical assistant for the prominent British consulting firm of Merz and McLellan from 1901 until he came to South Africa in 1909. He became Chief Engineer and later General Manager, of the VFP. The operation of a power system in an area of severe and frequent lightning storms was a major technical problem to be contended with. The area was described as about the worst district in the world for lightning storms at high altitude, the altitude at Johannesburg being 1756 metres. (SA Mining Journal, July 1912:784; Oct 1913:159; Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:5, 10; Rider, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1915:610; Bernard Price, Power Supply to the Mines of the Rand, In: SA Mining Journal, 27 Feb 1915 p.vi; Bernard Price, Journal of the South African Institution of Engineers, Aug 1916:7; Bernard Price, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Aug 1941:270)

After the Rosherville Power Station came into service, explosions and failures of switches on short circuit were experienced as a result of the increase in fault currents on the system. The same problems were being experienced in America on systems of similarly large output. It was found necessary to insert additional reactances in order to limit the rush of energy on short-circuit. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:18-19)

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Electrical transmission and compressed air network.
(From AE Hadley “Power Supply on the Rand”)

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POWER STATION PLANT LAYOUT

There was a general resemblance in the lay-out of the first power stations of the VFP, which were the most modern then available. The design and lay-out was largely due to Professor Dr. Klingenberg of Berlin, who was a director and Engineer-in-Chief of the Allgemeine Elektrizitaets Gesellschaft (the AEG). The original turbines at all four of the first VFP stations were supplied by the AEG. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:5; SA Mining Journal, Nov 1914:167; Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:2)

The VFP decided to use the Prat ejector type chimney for their first stations. These were found to give the "utmost satisfaction" and great flexibility in boiler house operation. An electrically driven rotary fan propelled cold air through the ejector situated at roof height in the chimney, thereby producing a suction in the flues. A draught of about one inch was usually obtained. A torpedo-shaped damper in the air pipe regulated the pressure of the air jet and the boiler load could be easily regulated to suit changes in the steam requirements. It was claimed to make the plant absolutely smokeless. (Hadley, In: Jour. Institution of Electrical Engineers (London) 1913:14-15)

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Other basic features of the first power stations were:

  1. the steam pressure was 220 lb/sq.in. and the boilers were fitted with chain grate stokers,
  2. the major switchgear was housed indoors, a cellular type of construction being adopted,
  3. water cooling was used on generator and coupling transformers,
  4. Merz-Price circulating current protection was provided on generators and transformers,
  5. the alternators were either 4 or 6 pole machines, operating at 1500 or 1000 rev/min respectively,
  6. provision was made for separate excitation from the station battery in case of failure of the exciter,
  7. most of the essential auxiliaries at the power stations were steam driven, which was a desirable feature during system disturbances and times of low frequency operation,
  8. the alternators were directly connected to step-up transformers, except the 3 MW sets at Simmerpan, which soon had to be rewound and have transformers installed (because of breakdowns occurring following electrical faults on the system).

(Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:1-2; Troost and Norman, Electricity Supply in South Africa 1909-1969:178:)

The Rand Central Electric Works and the Driehoek Power Stations were closed down soon after the Brakpan and Simmerpan Power Stations were commissioned. Extensions were made at the new stations as demand increased. (Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry …1961:24)


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OTHER SERVICES

At the same time that the initial system was established, three other important services were established:

  1. A system control centre was established at Simmerpan. This centre controlled load despatching at power stations and supervised all switching, linking and earthing of high voltage apparatus on the system in accordance with a comprehensive set of safety regulations. This centre has grown to be the present national control centre, which directs Eskom's entire transmission network today.
  2. A central workshop was established for the repair and overhaul of all major items of plant. This workshop was taken over by Eskom Enterprises when formed in 1999. The major workshops are still at Rosherville in Gauteng. Branch operations are situated throughout South Africa and also in other countries, where it has been awarded significant contracts.
  3. A testing department was established, which was responsible for metering, instruments and electrical protection apparatus. This has now become the Protection, Telecommunications and Metering (PTM) division of Eskom Enterprises.

(Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:2; Eskom Enterprises Annual Report 2000)


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1922 RAND REVOLT

A sharp drop in the price of gold in 1921 led to a decrease in mine-worker's wages, which in turn led to industrial unrest and the 1922 Rand Revolt. The Prime minister, General Smuts, mobilised the Army and martial law was declared. The VFP power stations were cordoned off by the Army and were kept going by all available staff. At Brakpan Power Station sniping occurred but no damage was done to the plant. By 16 March the revolt had been crushed, but at a price of over 200 lives. (Symphony of Power 2000:67)


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MERZ AND MCLELLAN REPORTS - ESCOM ESTABLISHED

A report entitled "South African Railways - Report on the Introduction of Electric Traction", was completed in June 1919 by the British firm of consultants, Merz and McLellan. The report was addressed to Sir William Hoy, General Manager of the South African Railways. A second report, entitled "Electric Power Supply in the Union of South Africa", was submitted to the government headed by Jan Christiaan Smuts in April 1920. A government appointed committee investigated the implications of this report. The findings of the committee led to the Government passing the Electricity Act in September 1922 and the establishment of Escom in 1923. The name was changed to Eskom in 1987. (Merz and McLellan Reports, 1919 and 1920)


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WITBANK POWER STATION

After World War I and the 1922 Rand Revolt additional power was urgently required. The VFP, who virtually held the monopoly for supplies to the gold mines, planned a new power station to be situated in the Witbank coal fields and connected to the existing system at Brakpan by means of a double circuit 132 kV transmission line. It was planned to install 20 MW sets. There were distinct economic advantages in building the power station at Witbank on account of the large quantity of duff (fine) waste coal, which could be bought at a very moderate cost. The cost of transport over the Government railways would also be avoided. The low cost of fuel would more than compensate for the additional costs in locating the station 100 km to the west. The plans included the construction of spray ponds at site and the building of a dam across the Olifants River. Make-up water would be pumped over a distance of about 10 km. (Jacobs AM, The Development of Electrical Power Supply in the Union of South Africa, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Aug 1941:262; Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:2)

When the RMPS Co was formed in 1908, the Central Mining-Rand Mines Group had insisted on being supplied by a separate system upon which their mines would have first call. The Group was therefore supplied by the Rosherville and Vereeniging stations and the remaining mines from Brakpan and Simmerpan. The VFP suggested that with Witbank in operation, a pooled system would be more reliable and also cheaper because of the low costs at Witbank. The Central Mining-Rand Mines Group agreed to link the systems, which thereafter became one organisation from an operational point of view. (Report of the Power Companies Commission 1909:11-13; Symphony of Power 2000:83-84)

The VFP made application in 1923 for an amendment of its Licence in order to build the power station, but this was opposed by the newly established Escom. Dr van der Bijl, the Chairman, argued that the VFP did not supply electricity at cost. Prime Minister Jan Smuts requested Charles Merz to intervene. Merz suggested that Witbank be financed and owned by Escom, but designed, built and operated by the VFP. The compromise satisfied the interests of both parties and the power station was brought into operation in May 1926. Three 20 MW sets were initially installed, operating at 3000 rev/min and a steam pressure of 220 lb/sq.in. The line from the power station to Brakpan was the first 132 kV transmission line to be in operation in the British Empire at that time. (Escom Annual Report 1969:15; Symphony of Power 2000:82-3)


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DISASTERS IN 1925 AND 1927

In December 1925 one of the generator rotor shafts at Vereeniging Power Station sheared and the heavy rotor tore through the stator. Massive pieces of metal were hurled through the power station roof and end of the building, some landing two kilometres away in the Free State on the other side of the Vaal River. Miraculously, nobody was hurt, although the building was extensively damaged and the machine was wrecked. The set was later replaced by a 20 MW turbo-alternator. (VFP Chairman, In: SA Mining Journal, Aug 1927:747; Symphony of Power 2000:37-8)

A less fortunate accident occurred at Brakpan Power Station in October 1927, when four workers were killed and others seriously injured. A boiler exploded and the dished ends of the steam drum were hurled a considerable distance. The boiler was totally wrecked and the buildings extensively damaged. (SA Mining and Engineering Journal, Oct 1927:191; Symphony of Power 2000:32)

Due to further plant shortages, the power system had to be sectionalised in 1928 and the electrical frequency on one section raised to 51,5 Hz in order to boost output of the air compressors. This condition persisted until well into the 1930's. (Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:2)


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KLIP AND VAAL POWER STATIONS

The total installed capacity of the existing stations feeding into the Rand-Witbank area in 1932 was 360 MW, but it was not practical to extend these stations sufficiently to meet the expected growth in demand. A similar agreement was entered into between the VFP and Escom by which the Klip Power Station would be financed and owned by Escom, but be constructed and operated by the VFP on behalf of Escom. The same principle was also followed in the development of new transmission and distribution networks in the Rand Extension licensed area. Klip Power Station had the distinction of being the largest steam power station in the Southern Hemisphere, having a total of 424 MW of installed plant. The rate of construction and commissioning was a world record and it possibly had the greatest output of any power station in the world at that time as well as the lowest cost of production. It was the first in Escom to have cooling towers. When completed in 1940, the station capacity was over four times that of Witbank Power Station, previously the largest station owned by Escom. (Pickles and Trelease, Klip Generating Station, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, May 1940)

Even the large power resources of the Klip Power Station, started up in March 1936, were not expected to keep pace with the ever-increasing demand for electricity. In co-operation with the VFP, Escom therefore decided in 1938, to build the Vaal Power Station. It was to be constructed on the Free State side of the Vaal River and would be the first Escom station to be built in the Free State. As in the case of Witbank and Klip, the station would be financed and owned by Escom, but be constructed and operated by the VFP on behalf of Escom. Like Klip, it was also a pithead station and the same arrangements were made for the extension of the network in order to supply the new gold fields in the Free State. (Escom Annual Report 1943:12; Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:26)


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TAKE-OVER BY ESCOM

In 1945, negotiations were started that led to the take over of the VFP and the purchase by Escom of its assets. A clause in the Power Act of 1910 of the old Transvaal Colonial Government, made provision for the expropriation of the VFP after a duration of 35 years. The clause was included in the Electricity Act No. 42 of 1922. A stalemate developed regarding the date of expropriation because of the different dates of the two Acts. By June 1948, Escom had already contributed about one-half of the capital required for the supply of power to the mining industry. Negotiations eventually led to the purchase by Escom of the electricity undertaking of the VFP for £14,5 million. This took place on 1 July 1948 and was the biggest merger ever in South Africa up to that time. As from the date of take-over the system became Escom's "Rand Undertaking", but this was later changed to "Rand and Orange Free State (or R&OFS) Undertaking". The compressed air plant totalled 117,6 MW when taken over in July 1948. (Escom Annual Report 1948:7; Escom Golden Jubilee 1923-1973:21; Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:6, 26; Symphony of Power 2000:100-106)

Power Station and Compressor Station plant at the end of December 1948 consisted of the following:

Brakpan One 3 MW generator, two at 12,5 MW and one at 20 MW. Total: 48 MW
Three reciprocating, two turbo air compressors, totalling 7 600 hp
Simmerpan Six 3 MW generators and two at 11 MW. Total: 40 MW
Rosherville Five 9,6 MW generators and one at 12,5 MW. Total 60,5 MW
Eight steam turbine driven turbo air compressors totalling 48 800 hp
Vereeniging Three 20 MW generators and three at 32,5 MW. Total 157,5 MW
Robinson Central Six electrically driven turbo air compressors totalling 14 000 hp
Canada Dam* Five electrically driven turbo air compressors totalling 22 200 hp
New Modder Mine Three electrically driven reciprocating compressors totalling 1 350 hp
Modder B Mine Six electrically driven compressors, 5 reciprocating, one turbo, totalling 5 500 hp

Compressed air plant at the end of 1948 totalled 99 450 hp or 74,190 MW (Escom Annual Report 1948:98)
* Canada Dam was started up in 1932. (Draper 1967:126-7)


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STAFF

The VFP Chairman, the Marquis of Winchester, paid a visit to South Africa in 1911, where he was engaged for two months in Johannesburg on the business of the company. Arthur E Hadley later became the London-based Chairman. (SA Mining Journal, Aug 1912:923; Symphony of Power 2000:65-66)

The operating and maintenance staff members were initially drawn mainly from Britain and were under the direction of Dr. Bernard Price, as Chief Engineer. He was assisted by TG Otley as Mechanical Engineer and Charles Bryden as Electrical Engineer. Two major technical problems facing them were the burning of low-grade coal and the operation of a power system in an area of severe and frequent lightning storms. These persons were pioneers who laid the foundation for the present bulk supplies in South Africa. The VFP was at one time the largest power supply undertaking in the British Empire and provided the basic system from which the present Eskom system was developed. (Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry…1961:2; Troost and Norman, Electricity Supply in South Africa 1909-1969:177)

Bernard Price was born in England in 1877. He showed great promise as an engineering student. He joined the firm of consulting engineers, Merz and McLellan in 1901, and had special interest in methods of protecting generators, transformers and cables from damage as a result of electrical faults. He came to South Africa in 1909 as Chief Engineer to the VFP. The high voltage lines and generating equipment on the Witwatersrand suffered a great deal of damage from lightning strikes and Price continued his work in connection with overcoming this problem. He held the post of Chief Engineer until 1926, when he was appointed as General Manager. In 1936 he became Resident Director and TG Otley was promoted to General Manager. Price was also active in many professional societies and committees and was internationally recognised for his technical expertise. (GR Bozzoli, Forging Ahead, South Africa's Pioneering Engineers, 1997:183-191; Symphony of Power 2000:55-56)


Arthur E Hadley
VFP Chairman (London)
(Photo: A Symphony of Power Page 65)

Major the Hon Walter L Bagot
(Managing Director in 1913)
(Photo: A Symphony of Power Page 65)

Bernard Price
Chief Engineer 1909-1926
General Manager to 1936
Resident Director from 1936

T G Otley
Senior Engineer, promoted to General Manager in 1936
(Photo: A Symphony of Power Page 65)

As early as 1908 the VFP supplied housing for its employees. Houses and single quarters were built simultaneously with the Simmerpan and Rosherville power stations in order to house operating staff. A Germiston contractor built the houses for approximately £600 a pair. Power station employees were also drawn from Johannesburg’s southern suburbs. Initially the houses were offered rent-free to lure them away from the attractions of Johannesburg to what were at that stage isolated spots in the countryside. Public transport was limited to a horse-drawn bus to and from Cleveland, and stables were provided for employees who owned horses. In the 1920’s motorcars became more and more popular and were seen in Rosherville Township, not without causing quite a stir amongst the residents. (Escom Megawatt, August 1977 No 43, pg. 19)

In a Souvenir published on the occasion of a visit to the power station by members of the Senate and House of Assembly in 1925, the following was recorded:

“At each Generating station there is a village of houses occupied by the Company’s staff and employees, that at Rosherville comprising 42 houses and 40 single quarters. The rents charged at this and other stations vary from £4-10s. to £5 per month for houses and £1 to £1-5s. per month for single quarters, and the employee living in the Company’s house is provided with light, coal, water and sanitary services free of charge. The Company also has provided tennis courts, bowling greens, a large sports ground, cricket and football grounds, shooting ranges, pavilions, recreation halls and billiard rooms, and plans are now being prepared for a swimming bath to be built on the property at Rosherville”.

At the VFP power stations the employees could be divided into the following three groups:

  1. A small, but highly skilled "officers corps" consisting of engineers of whom the majority were British immigrants from the industrial areas of northern England and Scotland,
  2. A middle class consisting mostly of local skilled white supervisors, clerks and artisans,
  3. A large group of unskilled labourers.

The officer class was extremely loyal to the company. When the VFP decided to establish a pension scheme in 1925, it was only this professional class who was to benefit. Escom had always owned Witbank, Klip and Vaal, but they had been operated by the VFP on behalf of Escom. After the take-over by Escom, all VFP employees were transferred to the RMPS Co up to 31 December 1948. From 1 January 1949 they were formally transferred to Escom. The Escom staff complement was increased by almost 200% (from 2 692 to 7 850). All staff members could then benefit from the Pension Scheme, a Home-Ownership Scheme, a Medical Benefit Society and a Provident Fund for the dependants of an employee in case of his death. (Escom: Twenty-five Years, 1923-1948, p35; Fenwick and Torr, Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry …1961:26; Escom Golden Jubilee 1923-1973:21; Symphony of Power 2000:65-66, 106)


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BIBLIOGRAPHY

South African Mining Journal, 1908-1918

Report of the Power Companies Commission T.G. 13-'10. Government Printer, Pretoria, 1910

Klingenberg Prof. Dr G "Die Anlagen der Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Co in Sudafrika", Sonderabdruck aus der Zeitschrift des Vereines deutscher Ingenieure, Jahrgang 1913, Seite 4.

Hadley AE, "Power Supply on the Rand", In: Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (London), Vol. 51, March 1913

Rider JH, "The Power Supply of the Central Mining-Rand Mines Group", In: Journal of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (London), Vol. 53, May 1915

Bernard Price, Power Supply to the Mines of the Rand, In: SA Mining Journal, 27 Feb 1915

Bernard Price, Inaugural Address "Power Supply to the Witwatersrand", In: Journal of the South African Institution of Engineers, Aug 1916

Otley TG and Pickles V, Boiler House Operation and Maintenance with Special reference to the Rand Power Companies' Plant, In: The Journal of the South African Institution of Engineers, Jan 1917

Merz and McLellan, South African Railways - Report on the Introduction of Electric Traction, 1919

Merz and McLellan, Electric Power Supply in the Union of South Africa, 1920

Pickles V and Trelease JS, Klip Generating Station, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, May 1940

Bernard Price, In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, (Discussion), Aug 1941:208

Bernard Price, "Power Supply on the Rand", In: South African Engineer and Electrical Review, Oct 1941

Jacobs AM, "The Development of the Electrical Power Supply in the Union of South Africa", In: The Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, August 1941

Escom Annual Reports, 1943, 1948, 1969

Escom Golden Jubilee 1923-1973

Fenwick and Torr, "Electric Power Supply to the Mining Industry in the Transvaal and Orange Free State: Its Generation, Transmission and Cost". Reprinted from The Seventh Commonwealth Mining and Metallurgical Congress, 11 April 1961

Draper J Ralph, "The Engineer's Contribution - A History of the South African Institution of Mechanical Engineers". Northern Cape Printers, Kimberley 1967

Escom Megawatt No 12/1968 page 39 (photo of air compressors at Brakpan)

Troost N and Norman HB, "Electricity Supply in South Africa 1909-1969" In: Transactions of the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, Sept 1969

Conradie, SR and Messerschmidt, LJM. Symphony of Power, The Eskom Story, Chris van Rensburg Publications, Johannesburg 2000

[ ORIGINAL SCHEME I EARLY CONCESSIONS I CHEAPER POWER I HARPER CONTRACT AND RAND MINES POWER SUPPLY CO I POWER COMPANIES COMMISSION I FOUR POWER STATIONS BUILT I TERMS OF SUPPLY I COMPRESSED AIR SUPPLIES I LAYOUT OF THE TRANSMISSION SYSTEM I POWER STATION PLANT LAYOUT I OTHER SERVICES I 1922 RAND REVOLT I MERZ AND MCLELLAN REPORTS - ESCOM ESTABLISHED I WITBANK POWER STATION I DISASTERS IN 1925 AND 1927 I KLIP AND VAAL POWER STATIONS I TAKE-OVER BY ESCOM I STAFF I BIBLIOGRAPHY ]


This webpage was last updated on 27 February, 2007