25 OCTOBER 1930, Page 10

Our Five Year Plan

BY F. YEATS-BROWN. WHEN I thought of the nice clean trains in North Italy, run by electricity, and the Berlin power plant, and the great installations in Sweden ; and when I read of what has been done in Ireland, where one hundred and twenty thousand visitors a year visit the Shannon Scheme, I began to wonder whether this country is not lagging behind in the development of electric power and light. There is much to support such pessimism. Some houses have alternating current, some direct. Voltages vary, so does the cost of electricity. It should be a simple matter to buy a bulb or fix a new wall plug, but it isn't, as any householder will tell you. We arc still in the Dark Ages of individualism so far as electricity is concerned, but various good people, such as Mr. Dunlop of the British Electrical Manufacturers' Association, and the Electricity Commissioners, are trying to lift us out of mediaeval methods. If they do not succeed in doing so as fast as we would wish, the fault does not lie with them, but with those other idealists who hold up the wayleaves of power-lines on the plea that pylons would offend their aesthetic sensibilities. We cannot eat our cake and have it too. Either we are an industrial nation, dependent on cheap power and modern equipment, or we must reduce our population to Elizabethan numbers and give up hoping to be the workshop of the world. The Spectator has always been a watch-dog of the countryside, and in certain places where power-lines would be inharmonious it is right that local amenities should be preserved, no matter at what cost. But to look at pylons (an ugly word !) as somehow wrong in themselves is reactionary, 5bscurantist, unpatriotic. Ages ago, men declaimed against windmills, saying that their flapping arms desecrated rural peace. More recently, Wordsworth prophesied the ruin of Lakeland by railways. No doubt trains are sometimes hideous (although posterity may dote on their charm), but they have not destroyed either Lakeland or London. When they pass by night, like glittering snakes, over the unduly-anathematized Charing Cross Bridge they appear to me to be very beautiful, and even on the South Downs—say, at Polegate, seen from the heights overlooking Eastbourne—their white smoke and black bodies enhance the greys and purples of nature. It is a matter of contrast, common sense, first cost. Near Lewes, as a correspondent recently pointed out, the cubist starkness of the pylons bring out the rounded symmetries of Mailing Hill and Fide Beacon. We must choose between smoke, and the diseases of smoke, and the pylons and purity of electricity. By 1934, if the Electricity Commissioners have their way, the majority of British homes will be brilliantly lit, and every factory linked with the Grid.

I confess my notions of the Grid were hazy until last week. They are clearer now, and, if not expert, they are at least enthusiastic and suffused with hope for the

future. Our " five year plan " is less spectacular than that of The Russians, but much more likely to be realized. In 1919, the Electricity Supply Act was passed, and an endeavour was made to co-ordinate the (supposedly) common interests of Local . Authorities and Supply Companies. But the two were like oil and water. Bumbledom and commercial interests would not mix : lethargy on the one hand and rapacity on the other kept us in the darkness before the dawn of the electrical age. In 1926 the Weir Committee tried to light up the situation. There were then countless generating stations dotted about the country, each making its own electricity according to its own theories. Five hundred of them still remain, but eventually there will be only one hundred stations, situated in places where power is cheapest, and linked together by high tension cables carrying a pressure of thirty-three thousand volts (that is the Grid) which will feed other distributing lines. When the Grid is complete, electricity will be produced and distributed rather more cheaply than it is at present ; but the chief factor governing the cost of any article is the market available for it. The public must be taught to want electricity, and with this object the Bedford Demonstration Scheme has been started and will be in operation next year. It affects fifteen thousand eight hundred and sixty-two people living in four thousand homes in twenty-nine villages covering about one hundred square miles of the rural district north and west of Bedford. The Electricity Commissioners are not waiting for a demand before creating a supply : they are creating it. They arc " starting something," as we should all do, these lean years. The results of a house to house enquiry into the demand for electrical current round Bedford disclosed that out of 653 calls made, 121 householders wished to be consumers and 106 did not : the remaining 426 said that they would like electric light, but could not afford to pay for the cost of wiring and fixtures. This then is the problem before us to-day (for Bedford is a typical district as regards density of population and in other respects), namely, how to make things as easy as possible for potential users of electricity. Into questions of hire purchase, assisted wiring schemes, and so on, I need not enter, for they arc not of general interest; nor can I describe what the methods of publicity will be that shall make first Bedford and then all Britain aware of the dayspring at our doors, for I do not know the details : it is evident, however, that these schemes will profoundly affect the life of the English countryside. And more, they will help to take industry back to the land. At ld. per unit electricity is cheaper than coal or gas. At present the average rate is nearly lid. for Great Britain, but within five or six years it is hoped to reduce the cost to id. per unit in Bedford, always provided that overhead transmission is possible. Under- ground cables cost three times as much. The powers we have at our disposal for the making of a better world are almost infinite. Let us see that we use them aright. We have harnessed a cosmic monster. He can make us a better world. He will wash and cook for us, make our cream and butter, pump our water, work our vacuum cleaners, loud-speakers, gramophones, turn night into day, set our factories to work again, even curl our hair. But we must not take him for granted : if you short-circuit his main path he will destroy you in a flash. Electricity has many of the attributes of a god. In fact it is a god, aloof, mysterious, powerful, and although we do not bow down to it, we can indulge towards it the beneficial faculty of wonder. We take too much for granted nowadays, and are losing our sense of a we.

Think of this Grid ! It consists of aluminium wires with a steel core : each wire is only a quarter of an inch in diameter, yet pulsing along it are 50,000 kilowatts —the kick of 75,000 horses—enough pressure to light more than a million lamps. All this energy should revitalize old England. Each lamp may be a beacon to better culture and more prosperity. Who says we ha' in an unromantic age ?