A presentation of the history of electrical power engineering in Poland should begin with a clear definition of the term “electrical power engineering”, which is not commonly used in everyday speech. Usually we refer to the power industry, which covers a much wider scope of meanings: energy raw materials, generation, transmission, collection as well as processing and consumption of energy (electrical and thermal). According to the Dictionary of Foreign Terms, the term is used to define “a branch of power industry including use of electricity for energy-related purposes”. In addition, the authors often supplement it with: “a branch of power industry including generation, processing, transmission and consumption of electric energy”. The term as specified above is the subject of the present discussion. Even though I sometimes refer to the power industry or a power engineer, I make the references in accordance with the interpretation shown above.
The development of electrical power engineering began with the invention of electric machines: a direct current generator (1833-1872), a tran-sformer (1831), and a three-phase engine (1889). Small generators were constructed after 1870 in order to light individual houses. The first major direct current power plant was built in 1882 by T.A. Edison in New York. In Europe, a power plant of the same type was built in Milan one year later. A French electrical engineer, M. Déprez, transmitted power of approx. 1.5 kW in Munich in 1882 at a distance of 35 miles (57 km) at a voltage of 2,000 V and with 22% efficiency. Transmission voltage was gradually increased and the current transmitted from Paris to Creil (56 km) had a voltage of 6,000 V with 45% efficiency. Later, as a result of the development works conducted by engineers such as Thury from Switzerland, O. von Miller from Germany and others, voltage in a direct current line was successfully increased to 125 kV (1927).
The first three-phase alternating current power plant was constructed by M. Doliwo-Dobrowolski in Lauffen, Germany in 1891. It was a hydroelectric power plant equipped with a 300 HP turbine and a 230 kW current generator. After the increase in voltage from 95V to approx. 15 kV, power was transmitted via a three-phase line stretching over the length of 106 miles (170 km) to Frankfurt am Main at an efficiency level of approx. 75%.
A short period of competition between various electric power systems based on direct current and one-, two- and three-phase alternating current (until the end of the 19th century) was followed by a period of accelerated development of electrical power engineering based on three-phase current. In the following years the voltages and power produced by electrical generators were gradually increased – the processes were significantly influenced by the discovery of an oil switch by the physician S. Ferranti in 1895.
Electricity was used in Poland for the first time in Huta Królewska (Royal Iron Works) in 1878. An attempt to light the B. Hantke factory with arch lamps was made by F.M. Kwiatkowski in 1879, while Gravier lit the weaving plants in Zawiercie in 1880. The first public utility power plant located within present-day Poland was launched on 1 October 1889 in Szczecin, and another one on 30 June 1891 in Wrocław. These were followed by facilities opened in the Russian sector of partitioned Poland: in Radom in 1901 and Vilnius in 1903. In the Austrian sector plants were established in Bielsko-Biała in 1893 and in Przemyśl in 1896. Worthy of note is the fact, that as new power plants were put into operation, new associations of electrical engineers began to emerge. Trade congresses and meetings were organised. After Poland regained its independence, electrical engineers had their congress organised between 7-9 June 1919, during which the Association of Polish Electrical Engineers was brought into being. The newly-established Association assumed the role of successor to the tradition initiated by the pioneers of volunteer work focusing on the development of electrical power engineering in Poland. The following organisations were operating at the same time: The National Association of Polish Electrical Engineers, Polish Association of Electrotechnical Enterprises, Polish Association of Power Plants, Polish Electrotechnical Committee and Polish Energy Committee.
Parallel to construction of municipal power plants, new industrial, tramway and mining power plants were put into operation. Power lines (both overhead and cable) appeared in many cities. In March 1906 in the city of Kraków an approx. 9 miles (14 km) long distribution network was already in operation. Networks were constructed including various power plants in a single mini-system, which had an impact on the organisation and establishment of regional power distribution companies (commercial law companies with a predominant share of private capital).
Initially, all equipment used by the power industry was produced by German companies such as AEG and Siemens. In these circumstances specialists from the Reich were brought in to deal with their construction and operation. Their experience and expertise were an invaluable asset for Poles. Nevertheless, education of own personnel was the objective pursued all along. Granting licences to foreign companies was subject to restriction under which a licence holder was allowed to employ specialists from abroad during the first four years. These specialists gradually had to be substituted by local professionals and in the tenth year of the licence term all personnel was supposed to be Polish.
On 5 December 1918 a joint stock company Power and Light aiming to promote business activity in national electrification was established. One of the elements of its operations was acquiring and buying out energy companies controlled by foreign capital. This could be thought of as the initial stage of electrical power engineering in Poland, while its participants could easily be referred to as the pioneers of the national power industry. An important area of its activity was public transport electric traction – the company contributed to establishing a number of electric commuter railway lines, particularly in the Łódź and Warsaw regions (the lines: Warsaw – Młociny – Modlin, Warsaw – Grodzisk – Żyrardów). In 1922 a joint stock company Electrical Commuter Railways with capital of 500,000 zlotys was incorporated as part of Power and Light. A WKD (Warsaw Commuter Railway) train departed on its route on 11 December 1927. It was the first normal-gauge track electrified railway line in Poland – the legendary “WKD” of Warsaw.
Prior to September 1939, 85% of the electrical power engineering industry in Poland was owned by foreign investors acting openly as foreign enterprises or as Polish enterprises based on foreign capital. Only 15% of the investment assets in this branch of the national economy were owned by the Polish state or local government. Relations between power engineers began to sprout leading to the emergence of forms of cooperation and patterns of behaviour. New practices were born, tradition was being formed, yet significant fragmentation and ownership divisions were not favourable for the process. The sector was growing more and more dynamically. A vocational school system was established, a power industry worker’s uniform was introduced (for fitters, meter readers), energy-related benefit and support funds were put into operation and company housing construction was initiated.
Until independence was gained in 1918, electrical energy management in Poland was the domain of the invader states who primarily secured their own political and economic interests. The National Electrotechnical Council attached to the Ministry of Industry and Commerce was appointed in January 1920. In turn, the Council appointed a special board consisting of Council members which was supposed to draw up a draft act on the generation, processing and distribution of electricity.
The board submitted the draft to the Council. Having received approval and after its presentation to government, the draft was submitted to the Legislative Seym during its session on 21 March 1922 by the Minister of Public Works. Deputy Majewski, the rapporteur, having reported on individual provisions, said, among other things: “In the 19th century we could observe tremendous changes taking place worldwide, because a steam engine was put into operation. The steam engine transformed the external face of the world but it also entered the social realm, creating new conditions for economic growth. Nonetheless, the end of the 19th century was marked by a broad application of another invention, namely electricity, which appeared as a competitor to steam.”
The Undersecretary of State at the Ministry of Public Works, deputy Rybczyński said: “By submitting the draft of the bill on electrification to the Honourable Seym, the government intends to take the first step in the direction where hardly anything has been made in our country so far. I would like to complete what the rapporteur-deputy has already mentioned and say that while in other countries electricity consumption per capita amounts to 100-200 kWh, in our country it is only 9 kWh per capita.”
However, the above quotations did not provide a full image of the neglect that was inherited by the Polish State after the partitions. In accordance with the statistical data from 1920, in the entire territory of Poland – except Upper Silesia – there were only 81 public utility power plants, three electricity distribution companies and three companies operating as joint stock companies with foreign capital. The Electricity Act was a legislative achievement of great significance, unprecedented in many European states where industrialization was much more advanced than in Poland.
At the same time in Great Britain, the so-called Electric Lighting Acts of 1882 – 1888 and 1913 were in force, providing for the authorisation of electricity enterprise operations by the Minister of Commerce or approval of the right to operate by Parliament.
The Polish Electricity Act of 21 March 1922 was based on the principle expressed in Article 5, stating that the licence to generate, process, transmit or distribute electrical power for commercial sale purposes shall be issued by the government represented by the Minister of Public Works. According to Article 8, electricity companies were granted the right to use roads, streets and public squares free of charge. State, community and private properties could be used against compensation in order to lay overhead or underground cables, to erect transformer stations and other units, to install wires and brackets on the walls and roofs of buildings and to cut tree branches near electrical wires.
Further rights were granted to public utility electric companies under Article 10 of the Act. Accordingly, they were allowed to expropriate or occupy real property in order to build or maintain an electric enterprise permanently or temporarily. Apart from the above progressive regulations, the electricity act also contained provisions arising with regard to private property protection. Undoubtedly, they had an inhibitory effect on the development of electrification in rural areas.
Passing the “electricity act” (as it was commonly referred to) contributed to the development of electrical power engineering in Poland, which in turn facilitated further growth of the Polish economy. The executive order to the Act on the Promotion of Electrification provided for splitting the country into electrification districts, except for 6 voivodeships in the east where the requirements to obtain tax credits were less stringent and the Silesian voivodeship, which was not covered by the act. 17 districts existed in 1937.
District 1 – Pomerania: Pomerania National Power Plant “Gródek” and Chełmno-Świecie-Toruń Electrification Union.
District 2 – Bydgoszcz: National Central Electrical Station in Bydgoszcz and Wyrzysk Central Electrical Station.
District 3 – Poznań was reserved for the incorporated but not yet operating Poznań District Electrification Association.
District 4 – Kalisz: OZEMKA District Power Distribution Company of the City of Kalisz.
District 5 – Łowicz and Kuyavia partly included within the operating area of ZEWMAR Intercommunal Electrification Union of Warsaw Voivodeship.
District 6 – Łódź: ZEMPOL Intercommunal Electrification Union of the Industrial Area in Łódź.
District 7 – Warsaw: ZEOP Power Distribution Company of Warsaw’s Suburban District (on the right bank of the Vistula), the left-bank part of the district was electrified under the licence granted to the Warsaw District Power Plant in Pruszków.
District 8 – Piotrków and Częstochowa was subject to licences held by several companies included in a Belgian concern.
District 9 – Kielce and Radom: ZEORK Radom – Kielce District Power Plant Federation.
District 10 – Kraków was reserved for the network partnership in organisation.
District 11 – Tarnów: OZET District Power Distribution Company in Tarnów with state-owned capital.
District 12 – Lublin: LUBZEL Lublin Intercommunal Electrification Union.
District 13 – Przemyśl was reserved for the network partnership in organisation.
District 14 – Lvov: ZEOL Lvov District Electric Company.
District 15 – Podkarpacie: Podkarpackie Electrical Company with foreign capital including 2% held by National Economy Bank.
District 16 – Siedlce reserved for the designed Intercommunal Union.
District 17 – Mława – Mazovia had minor power plants only.