State's role in providing access to electricity?
I’ve been watching a documentary on the history of the British power grid. You can see the first 15 min here.
Synopsis: Reeling from the rise of the Communists in Russia in 1913, the British of the 1920s were deeply suspicious of centralized state authority. Lenin had remarked that Communism was just the power of the people “plus electricity”; this prompted even deeper suspicion about expanding the role of the state into the world of electricity.
Thus England largely refrained from regulating electricity. As a consequence, in 1920 most of the nation remained without. And where electricity was available, rival providers would string competing lines down the streets, providing service at a variety of voltages. Thus, if you moved across the street, you might find that none of your electrical appliances would work. Also, the failure of any one supplier would result in blackouts for customers; there was no interconnection to provide back-up service.
One final consequence: The centralized governments of Germany and France had directed the rapid deployment of electricity throughout their nations. Due to economies of scale, electricity in those countries proved to be cheaper than in England. This gave a competitive advantage to firms operating in those countries.
Confronted with these facts – and the fact that expanding the electric grid would be politically popular -- England’s otherwise laissez faire Conservative government created the Central Electricity Board in the 1920s and launched into a process of centralized planning and construction of the electric grid -- the greatest program of government expenditures in the nation’s history to that time.
The project was opposed by many -- including luminaries such as John Maynard Keynes, Rudyard Kipling, and John Galsworthy -- on grounds that it would be ugly and required the condemnation of private property.
The project was completed on budget, ahead of schedule, and succeeded in expanding the availability of electricity and reducing its price. Among other results, this expansion would prove to be vital during WWII -- to power production, to enable production in rural areas, and also to provide reliability; the German Blitz would destroy England’s power plants, yet electricity would continue to flow in from Scotland and Wales.
England’s choice to establish the CEB and accelerate the expansion of the power grid: good, bad or indifferent? You make the call.