Montreal Daily Star, 19 May 1897, page 12

A lighting war

Prices of electricity to be reduced

As soon as the Lachine Rapids Power is available

What action will the other companies take?

Montreal is likely to have a lightin rate war this summer, and a very considerable reduction in the cost to householders of domestic illumination is among the possibilities of the near future. 

As soon as the new works of the Lachine Hydraulic and Land Company at Lachine Rapids are completed – which will be towards the end of June—the directors of that company will announce a reduction of from 25 to 40 per cent in their rates for electricity for lightning and power purposes.

This step is fraught with vast possibilities of economy for the householder and small manufacturer.  When the cost of electric lighting is reduced from three-quarters of a cent per ampere per hour to one-half a cent, as it will be, electricity must become a more and more formidable competitor to gas for illumination purposes, and its adoption must follow as a matter of course.

Not only will electricity be less costly than gas, but it is infinitely cleaner and is by many claimed to be far less dangerous.  The cost of fitting up a residence with electric lighting apparatus is not more expensive than are gas fittings, and already many landlords all over the city have given orders to the Lachine Company to replace their gas fittings by electrical wires and lamps.

It will be interesting to see how the rivals of the new company will meet the cut in rates.  One gentleman, who is largely identified with a prominent illuminating company, told a Star reporter that if the reduced rate was out of the ~~~ which he seemed to doubt, the other companies would be compelled to follow suit, and the result would be a war of rates for a few weeks, or perhaps months.  But he did not believe that such a state of affairs would last very long.  A modus Vivendi would soon be arrived at, and the climax would be an amalgamation of the opposing interests with, probably an increase of rates to a figure in excess of those now charged.

But Mr Walbank is not of that opinion.  The Lachine Rapids Company has, he says, come to stay, and is determined to preserve its independence.  It will never amalgamate with any rival organisation.  Its position is, he claims, too strong.

When asked how it would be possible for the Lachine Rapids Company to compete at as low a rate as the Royal Electric Company, when its capital was larger than the latter’s.  Mr Walbank laughed  and said: “That’s where you make the mistake.  Its just the other way round.  It’s the Royal which has the larger capital.  Its capital now is $2250000, including the quarter million of bonds recently issued; ours is only nominally $2 000 000 and only actually $1 250 000. But whereas our two millions will give us our system thoroughly completed and fully equipped, as well as our land, the Royal, with its present capital of over two millions, will have to pay the Chambly Manufacturing Company for the use of the power to be generated there.  So you can see how strong our position will be.”

“Yes” added Mr GB Burland, the president of the company, who was present, “it’s going to be a case of the survival of the fittest, and we’re going to survive.”

The Lachine Hydraulic and Land Company, with which is amalgamated the Citizens’ Light and Power Company, will, as soon as the work of harnessing the Lachine Rapids is completed, possess facilities for the transmission of electrical power, which will be unequalled in Canada, so its managing director, Mr W McLea Walbank, claims.  In this advantage it intends that the public shall share, and as an earnest desire of its intentions in this respect, the proposed reduction in rates is announced.  Not only will the company offer the half cent to new customers, but all its present patrons will share in the advantage also.  Already the company is supplying some 15 000 lights in the city and suburbs.  The prospect is, says Mr Walbank, that this number will be more than doubled before the year 1897 is at an end.

The lighting contracts which the company now has with St Henri, Ste Cunegonde, Westmount and St Louis du Mile End, as well as that with the Harbor Commissioners for the lighting of the harbor, will also share in the reduction.  Most of these contracts are for 50 years at the existing rate, but as soon as the reduction is made to the general public, a similar cut will be made in the rates paid by these corporations. 

The reductions will not be confined to the supply of lights.  It will apply equally to the distribution of power, and just here it may be remarked that the majority of Montrealers have no idea of the possibilities of manufacturing development for Montreal, which are contained in the new enterprise.  Many small manufacturing establishments, which now are dependent upon steam for their motive power, hired as a rule from large establishments, will be able to get in small motors, form one horse-power upwards, and regulate their own power.  This cannot fail to result in a large increase in the number of small establishments, industries which, in the majority of cases, run all the year round, unaffected, as larger factories must necessarily be of value to the laboring classes, and in many respects lessen the congestion which now so often exists among the unemployed.