Power at Niagara
Harnessing the Power of the Niagara River
"It began modestly in 1757 with one small sawmill. Less than 140 years later, Niagara Falls became the world's leading producer of electrical power. Essential to power development at Niagara were Nikola Tesla, George Westinghouse, William B. Rankine, J. P. Morgan, Edward Dean Adams, and John Jacob Astor IV; crucial to its realization were the hundreds of now-nameless workers who hacked the power station's wheel pit from obstinate bedrock, and tunnelled its tailrace for almost two miles beneath the city.
"With the first generation of power in 1895, electrical power became plentiful and inexpensive. Revolutionary new electro-chemical and electro-metallurgical industries flocked to Niagara. For much of the Twentieth Century, Niagara Falls was the world's center of electrochemical and electrometallurgical production."
- Daniel Dumych
1906–2006: One Hundred Years of "Power for the People"
"Nothing is too big for us. Nothing is too expensive to imagine. Nothing is too visionary." — Sir Adam Beck
On May 14, 1906, the Power Commission Act, or more formally "An act to Provide for the Transmission of Electric Power to the Municipalities", was granted Royal Assent. This Act created the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario (HEPC).
Premier Sir James P. Whitney appointed Sir Adam Beck as the first chairman of the Commission. He served in this role until his death in 1925.
Beck, who had been appointed minister without portfolio in 1905, was a strong advocate for publicly-owned electrical generation and transmission. Promoting the concept of "power at cost", he had chaired the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Inquiry. The Commission of Inquiry's report led to the passing of the Power Commission Act by the legislature.
The first bulk transmission line built by HEPC from Niagara Falls was completed in 1910, and switched on during a ceremony in Berlin (now Kitchener), Ontario.
HEPC would go on to purchase most of the generating stations on the Canadian side of the river. It also constructed its first generating facility on the Niagara River, the Queenston-Chippawa Power Development (later renamed Sir Adam Beck 1), transmitting its first electricity in 1922. Later, the larger Sir Adam Beck 2 was built, which went into service in 1954.
HEPC officially became Ontario Hydro in 1974. In 1997-1999, Ontario Hydro was split; generating stations were transferred to Ontario Power Generation, transmission assets were transferred to Hydro One.
1906: The Electrical Development Company
In November, 1906, The Electrical Development Company Ltd. (later called the Toronto Power Company) became the first Canadian-owned enterprise to generate electricity at Niagara Falls. Their Toronto Power Station was the largest of its type in the world when it opened. It was purchased by the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario in 1922, and retired in 1973.
The Boundary Waters Treaty of 1909 and the Niagara River Water Diversion Treaty of 1950 govern the use of water from the Niagara River for any purpose, including power generation. The 1909 treaty established the International Joint Commission whose purpose is to prevent and resolve disputes relating to the use and quality of boundary waters.
As of 2006, there are only 2 active operators of hydro-electric generation facilities on the Niagara River:
- Ontario Power Generation. OPG, and its predecessors, Ontario Hydro and the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario, have played a major role in the development of the Niagara River as one of the world's greatest sources of hydro-electric power. Hydro One is responsible for the transmission of electricity generated at Niagara throughout Ontario.
- The New York Power Authority. The NYPA is responsible for developing the hydro-electric potential of the Niagara River in New York.