Douglas was the last town of its size anywhere
in the British Isles to be provided with a public supply, the delay being
caused by leaden footed civic pride. The predecessors of the Manx Electric
Railway Co Ltd had promoted electric tramways and lighting for the Borough from
their own supply in 1895. They already supplied private customers in Port Jack,
Onchan and elsewhere from their power stations, but Douglas Corporation decided
that the supply of utilities by private trading concerns was not to be countenanced.
Instead they procured consulting engineers' reports on a projected municipal
electricity supply with monotonous regularity: 1898, 1907, 1908, 1911, 1913,
1918 and 1919. The first municipal power station, built between North Quay and
Lord Street (the fabric of which may still be seen) provided the first public
supply when it opened on May 18 1923 and which quickly proved to be
insufficient in generating capacity. A very much larger steam turbine station
was opened at Pulrose in 1928 and much enlarged in 1935 after means had been
found to reduce the likelihood of flooding, which had caused the station to be
abandoned for some time in September 1930. The original power station on North
Quay continued in use despite suffering an out of control flywheel during
October 1944. Parts of Douglas were showered by the remains of the flywheel
including the Gas Works and Isle of Man Times building which was located in
Athol St. The DC power station
continued supplying parts of Douglas for several more years until
additional generating plant at Pulrose was completed.
The earliest commercial generation in the Island was provided by the electric tramway's Derby Castle power station, opened in 1893 and which provided a public supply in Onchan, Port Jack and elsewhere. Further power stations were built for what became the MER at Laxey (1894) at the Bungalow (Snaefell line) 1895 and Ballaglass (1898). The Laxey plant was augmented by a hydro-generating turbine set using water from the Laxey River. Inaugurated in 1899 the remains of the weirs, head and tail races, power house and turbine house can still be seen. The MER ceased to generate its own power in 1935 when it was connected to the "All-Island" and Douglas municipal supplies. The "All-Island" supply was introduced by the Isle of Man Electricity Board in 1932-3. Other power stations in the Island included Pigeon Stream on the Marine Drive, which supplied their electric tramcars on the Douglas HeadPort Soderick line. This too ceased to generate in 1935 when it was connected to the Douglas supply. Before the coming of the Douglas and later All-Island supplies, electric power was frequently produced privately by means of generator sets. A much larger scale private generating capacity was operated by Mr Bellamy of Baldrine, who had a small power station on Clay Head Road, and which supplied several properties in the immediate area until 1935-6.
The Electricity Board purchased its supply from Douglas until it opened its own diesel generating station in Peel in 1950, to the exclusion and annoyance of Douglas which had recently extended its generating capacity on the assumption that it would continue supplying the rest of the Island indefinitely. A further small diesel generator was opened at Milntown near Ramsey in the 1960’s.
In the ensuing years the steam powered generating plant at Pulrose was progressively replaced by diesel, and the diesel plant in Peel was updated. The Douglas Corporation Electricity Department and IOM Electricity Board were merged in 1984 to become the Manx Electricity Authority (MEA), its power stations equipped exclusively with diesel alternator sets (apart from a small hydroelectric generator in Sulby Glen). The costs to the consumer (up to four times the UK price equivalent) reflected the enhanced operating costs of diesel generation as well as the economics of small-scale production. See MTR 56 (Summer-Autumn 1989). A replacement (still diesel) Peel Power Station opened on a new site in 1995.
A 40MW capability undersea interconnector cable between Douglas and England to link the Island with the National Grid at Bispham came into use in 2003, its terminal providing new use for the 1923 power station building on the North Quay. Also opened in 2003 was the Island’s largest single new generator, the highly efficient 88MW Combined Cycle Gas Turbine (CCGT) Power Station at Pulrose. Fuelled by natural gas, this required the laying of a pipeline branching off the undersea connection between the UK Mainland and Ireland. This has also enabled the progressive conversion of household supplies to natural gas in place of the costlier higher carbon gas previously brought in by tanker.
In 2014 the MEA was merged with the IOM Water and Sewerage Authority to become the Manx Utilities Authority (MUA), also responsible for supply of natural gas (but distribution is still in the privately owned hands of Manx Gas) and a fibre optics link to the UK.
The CCGT generator now supplies about 95% of the Island’s electricity, with an additional 5MW contribution coming from the (privately operated) Energy from Waste plant at Richmond Hill, opened in 2004. The remaining 90MW of diesel capacity at Pulrose, Peel and Milntown, is now kept largely on standby, and available (and likely to be increasingly needed) to export energy to the National Grid via the Interconnector at times of peak demand.
Thanks are due to Mike Jones for supplying further information.