History of electricity supply in Queensland
Queensland being Australia's second largest state in terms of physical area (Western Australia is the
largest), achieving the early leaders' dream of providing electricity to every home entailed a
considerable degree of pioneering, innovation, and commitment. Generation and limited distribution
was initially the responsibility of local authorities. A central state-based authority to coordinate the
generation and distribution of electrical power was not established until 1938. In the late 1990s the
electricity sector was restructured to enable integration with the National Electricity Market.
Initially, the many local authorities raised funds, and provided supply for their own areas in whatever
way they could. A number of coal mine in the Ipswich district were generating electricity by the early
In far western Thargomindah, late in the 19th century, the civic fathers set up the first natural gas
powered generating station in the world. Electricity for lighting was also generated from the pressure of
artesian water bores.The use of bore water at Thargomindah has been described as Australia's first
hydro-electricity scheme and operated until 1951.
Later, in Dalby, on the Darling Downs a much larger suction gas engine was installed in a power house by
Myall Creek to supply the town. Other local authorities, one by one, set up generation stations using
various types of diesel engines. The station in Tara used horizontal single cylinder heavy diesel fuel
engines with drip lubrication. Others used more familiar types.
The power station in Roma was first set up using Ruston & Hornsby and Blackstone and Mirrlees 12 and
16 cylinder diesel engines. As demand grew, a turbine modified from a 707 jet engine was installed to
supplement peak load. When the Roma gas fields were developed, all these engines were modified to
run on dual fuel. When the gas flow was insufficient for the engines' needs, they ran on natural gas, but
when the flow faltered, as it often did, the engines would automatically convert to burning diesel
distillate. In 1928, the New Farm Powerhouse (now known as the Brisbane Powerhouse) became
operational. It was owned by the Brisbane City Council until it was sold in 1963 to the Southern
Electricity Authority and then decommissioned in 1971.
In the major metropolitan areas of Brisbane, Gold Coast and Toowoomba, private companies provided
supply and this continued into the 1950s. But the State Government then took a hand, dividing
responsibility for electricity supply for the state amongst three Electricity Supply Authorities, Southern,
Central and Northern. These basically covered the high population areas of the east coast, leaving
supply in the west in the hands of the various local councils.
Southern Electricity Authority of Queensland
The Government of Queensland decided that there should be one electrical authority for South East
Queensland in 1961. The Southern Electricity Authority of Queensland (SEAQ), absorbed not only the
City Electric Light and Power Company which supplied Brisbane and the Gold Coast, but also
Toowoomba Electric Light and Power Company, which also covered some areas west of the Great
Dividing Range. The new authority was considered a major step forward in electrical progress. Its
establishment prepared the way forward for future amalgamation of power supply in South East
A new order commenced with the Electricity Act of 1976, under which a series of regional Electricity
Boards were set up replacing the three Electricity Authorities from 1 July 1977. These Boards were
under the umbrella of the State Electricity Commission of Queensland, which assumed the major
generation and transmission responsibilities in 1938 after the Queensland Government's Royal
Commission on Generation and Distribution of Electric Power in Queensland, 1936 was conducted to
review electricity supply in the state.Governing Board members this time included State Government
representative members, local councillors, and prominent business people. Under this new set-up,
responsibility for electricity distribution from the ranges east of Toowoomba to the South Australian
border was given to the South West Queensland Electricity Board (SWQEB), and the eight separate local
council power stations were handed over to the Board's control. In 1945, the South East Queensland
Electricity Board (SEQEB), Wide Bay-Burnett Electricity Board, Capricornia Electricity Board, Mackay
Electricity Board, North Queensland Electricity Board, Far North Queensland Electricity Board were also
established to distribute electricity in their respective regions. This marked the first attempt to
coordinate electricity supply outside of South East Queensland.
A single-wire earth return power line near Emerald, 2007
During this time the effort to supply remote properties led to the pioneering of a different means of
supply – Single-wire earth return (SWER) lines were set up reaching many thousands of miles and many
hundreds of outlying properties with reliable electricity supplies for the first time. Because of the de-
centralisation of government departments in Queensland, the headquarters for the SWQEB was
establised at Dalby, with that region's power house, operating systems, and customer billing taken over
immediately. The electricity facilities of the seven surrounding council areas were gradually absorbed,
but meter reading and customer billing in each of these continued for some time as local operations.
Customer billing for the area covered by the SWQEB that was formerly within the SEAQ was
administered on a bureau basis by SEQEB, which was based in Brisbane.