Electricity Development in the Illawarra Region
The period over which the Illawarra region established and grew was one which also saw the evolution of one of the most pervasive influences of the 20th century, the generation and use of electric power. As might be expected in such an industrially-oriented region, development of electricity in the Illawarra was largely driven by industry, notwithstanding the major benefits it was able to bring to personal and public life generally. By their nature, the early industries of the Illawarra were either those in which the introduction of energy-using equipment could bring substantial gains in production, or those which were directly energy-intensive in their processes. Both were to be major drivers of the application of electricity in industrial production in the region.
Having industry as a driver has a parallel in the development of transport systems in the Illawarra, both sea transport and rail transport systems. With the latter, there is a further parallel in the manner in which the sector grew. Rail systems displayed a pattern of substantially private development of independent systems, with subsequent introduction of state-coordination and ownership which ultimately absorbed the original independent systems. That was to be the pattern also for the electricity sector where factors such as the need for standardisation for interconnection purposes, rights of access for distribution systems, and the capital scale required, all favoured integration of individual systems under a state entity. With the establishment of a state system, effectively all the private generators either disappeared or were absorbed into that system, the sole exception being the steel industry where energy efficiency generally dictated the ability to internally generate electricity from byproduct fuels for energy recovery purposes.
There were three main elements in the development of electricity supply in the region – the first being those coal mines which installed their own generation to supply their own site needs and sometimes external needs also; the second, industry generally but most particularly the steel industry, generating both to supply their own needs and also to utilise available byproduct fuels; and the third, a state system which evolved progressively from the early involvement of the Department of Public Works in its construction and port activities. The first of these has now disappeared; the second is now limited to the steel industry only; and the third is now the sole supplier to the region – although now itself privatised.
More detailed information on the development of electric power in the Illawarra may be found at