An Electrifying Experience – Ashton Lewis, 19.11.14, by John Slater

Ashton’s talk was billed as, ‘An illuminating talk…electricity on the Island.’ At the conclusion, I confessed to having had some doubts as to whether or not this might be too specialist for a general meeting. I readily admitted that my concern was totally unnecessary!
After a sparkling introduction by Corrie Wooding, Ashton read a brief definition of electricity. He didn’t go back quite as far as the Ancient Greeks’ discovery of static electricity when wheat chaff in the fields stuck to the amber beads of their necklaces, but very nearly! It was a useful revision of our school physics, reminding us of how curious and at times, alarming this force can be.
We gave some thought to the various forms of electricity such as current, static, and radio waves, reminding us that despite knowledge of this force stretches back several thousand years, it is really only in the last century that we have managed to harness it for our use.
By way of personal history, we learned that Ashton had served for 45 years with the MEA, before retiring four years ago. As an apprentice, he realised that he would have to improve his qualifications and studied O-levels and then A-levels in Liverpool as appropriate courses weren’t available here. Further studies took him right on to becoming a Chartered Engineer in 1976/7. His rise from apprentice to Chief Executive is the stuff of dreams but achieved through hard work and talent!
Ashton got to know Peel well, digging up the streets and installing sub-stations in the 1980’s, involved with the ‘new’ power station and in the 1990’s getting to grips with updating the whole system. The race was on to ensure a constant, dependable supply for the burgeoning communications revolution. Televisions, high – fi’s, mobiles, home computing all expanding domestic needs. Coupled to E-gaming, on-line shopping and banking, a huge investment of knowledge, infrastucture and cash was vital.
In 1893, The Manx Electric Railway had to install their own generators, embodying an electric power company. As well as supplying the trams and their own premises, wires were tapped from the overhead wires to feed some of the properties bordering the line. In 1923, a power station was suggested at Pulrose and this was built between 1929 and 1933. Electricity was supplied to Peel and five other towns. 1949 – 55 saw a rural electrification scheme, including farms, funded by the government. A few remote locations are still without supply.
1950 – 51, ‘old’ Peel power station was built and in 1984, The MEA was born – one authority for the whole island. More recently, this has combined with the water authority as a utility company. Normally, we try to keep water and electricity apart!
I hesitate to quote all the figures Ashton gave us but 1 000 km of overhead cables on 11 000 wooden poles, some still in fine condition from the 1930’s was impressive as were 1.000 substations and 100km of sub-sea cable weighing 5cwt a metre – I hope I’ve got these mixed units correct!
Questions were invited during the talk as well as after refreshments. These were so lively and well informed that we went on later than usual so that I almost had to throw people out! Numbers of the audience were specialists in power generation and supply so we all benefited.
Interest was shown in the sample cables on display, particularly in fibre optics. The importance of our 2-way link with the UK is much appreciated as, whilst being a potential back-up for us, it also earns the island a useful profit. There was also interest in the 8% generated by our energy from waste plant and the 100 000 units generated by hydro-electric power. More is available from private, ‘green’ generation.

Our next event is the Christmas party and entertainment at Peel Golf Club at 7.30pm on Tuesday, 9th December. Tickets are still available from Corrie Wooding on 843502. You don’t have to be a member to have a wonderful evening!