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Palmerston North Electric Power Station Inc.

Postal Address: P.O. Box 1485, Palmerston North, New Zealand 4440

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Industrial heritage isn't necessarily beautiful heritage. To some, a building such as the above (photographed 23/9/2000) is an eyesore. However, this side of this example of industrial heritage is not the one its architects planned for passers by to see. This is the 'business side' of the old Palmerston North Electric Power Station. 

Where are we? The power station is located in Keith Street, Palmerston North, New Zealand, adjoining Terrace End Cemetery and overlooking Napier Road (State Highway 3).

The Beginning: The Palmerston North Borough Council (PNBC) built and equipped the Palmerston North Electric Power Station between December 1922 and March 1924. It began a limited supply of electricity, for lighting purposes only, in March 1924. Unrestricted usage began in August 1924. The facility was ‘officially’ opened on 12 November 1924. Between April and December 1924, the power station also supplied the Manawatu-Oroua Electric Power Board’s (MOEPB) customers, via its sub-station at Bunnythorpe. This ceased with the completion of 11,000-volt lines from the Mangahao Hydro Electric Dam to that sub-station. Mangahao itself was officially opened on 3 November 1924, a week before the Palmerston North facility’s 'official' opening

The Engines: At first, three National gas engines powered the station, but in 1936, the present two 1,400 hp. British Polar K48M diesel engines were installed. The gas engines were removed and scrapped in late 1953, although the original switchgear upstairs, and the four large compressed air cylinders on the wall downstairs remain The power station generated electricity regularly until the completion of the Cook Strait cable in 1965. After that, it helped reduce the loading at peak times. It was last used to continuously generate electricity when the level of the southern lakes dropped in 1992.

The Politics: At times over the years, the power station was the focus of battles between its owner (PNBC, now PN City Council) and MOEPB, which surrounded the city. However, by the time Centralpower (formerly MOEPB) purchased Palmerston North City Council’s Electropower (formerly the council’s Municipal Electricity Department) in December 1996, it had no use for the old building and its contents. PNCC, therefore, remained its owner. The power station’s fate seemed shaky until the Manawatu Branch of the NZ Historic Places Trust and interested local people organised an open day and 'engine start' on 23 March 1997. In the two-hour period, about 350 people visited the power station - despite terrible weather. Because of growing interest in saving the building, a meeting of interested people was held on 26 May 1997, and from this group PNEPS Inc. was in due course formed.

Progress: Although some years have passed since then and to some not a lot may appear to have happened, the organisational process has slowly ground onward. This included leasing the building from PNCC and working on the building and its machinery. In early 1999, PNCC also re-roofed the main part of the building - an expensive development that was essential if the facility was to progress. Then in 2010, the remaining part of the roof (the flat part) was also re-roofed by PNCC.

Significance and Developments: At present, we have in our ‘possession’ one of the few surviving power stations of its type that survives in New Zealand in a relatively unmodified form, and where both of the engines are still operational - although not connected to the national grid anymore. The other surviving power station is at Springlands, in Blenheim. In February 1998, the society also inherited the collection of the Hamilton-based National Electrical Museum Society, the bulk of this material arriving in the Spring of 1999. It is at present stored off-site, while the power station is transformed to display it. 

Our Aims: The society’s aim is to preserve and maintain the power station’s own plant in working order, to present electrical history (regionally and in general), display older electrical equipment (including domestic appliances) and to educate in these matters and in relation to safety with electricity. For further information, please contact the society at the above addresses.

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Palmerston North Electric Power Station Inc., P.O. Box 1485, Palmerston North, New Zealand 4440.

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This website was born on 23/9/2000.