The water mills of Pallars Sobirà


Pallars S. desconnecction reasons


When in the early twentieth century was resolved the problem of long-distance transmission of electricity, could be launched the second industrial revolution. Before that, every factory, every industrial facility should generate its own energy. The investment required disincentivated many initiatives by lack of capital. In addition, the location of the production plant was conditionated by the location of the energy production facility. Many factories in Catalonia chose to exploit the water resources of the irregular Ter and Llobregat rivers far away from communication channels and the markets. Manufacturers had to specialize in low-energy industries, such as textiles. Limited energy and stiffness in locating burdened industrial development.

Plugging into the electric distribution network would allow companies to buy the energy they needed to concentrate their investment effort in production and to be located in the most appropriate place without depending on the energy source location. The application of electric motors allowed to disseminate industry in space. The second industrial revolution was the explosion of small and medium enterprises that would characterize the classic industrial network of Catalonia.

By the year 1881 was installed in Barcelona the first electric generating industry with a power capacity of 1,100 HP (Sociedad Española de Electricidad), but the generators worked with the combustion of coal that had to be imported with high transport costs, which encreased the price of kilowatt.

As soon as alternators and transformers were able to sufficiently increase the voltage in the transmission of energy while minimizing losses, attention was directed towards an alternative source, inexhaustible and eventually much cheaper: hydropower from the high counties of Pallars. Thus, the transport of electricity far from the site of generation gave a final push to the process of industrialization in the Catalan Barcelonès environment, principaly after the adoption by factories of multifasic engines.

The Catalan industrialist with difficulties in finding adequate funding given the enormity of the works, allowed entry into the electric business of foreign capital. It was a financial consortium based in Toronto (Canada), which funded the early construction of a large dam in the Noguera Pallaresa and a Franco-Swiss consortium who would provide de funding of the Vall Fosca works(1)

When Fret S. Pearson, founder of Barcelona Traction, Light and Power Company, Limited (known as "The Canadian") moved to Pallars to study its hydraulic capacity, there were already installed some small central in the Noguera Pallaresa basin (Isidre Arnalot from casa Tort d'Alós had already built three facilities in Pallars for public lighting: one in Pobla de Segur the year 1898 with water from the aqueduct "dels Molins", one in Sort the year 1905, and one in Gerri de la Sal during the same decade). But now the time was ready for big investment. There was a real competition to acquire the water rights of the Pyrenean. Pearson bought the year 1911 the exploitation rights of the Noguera Pallaresa river from Camarasa to La Pobla de Segur to a engineer of Barcelona, Domenec Sert i Badia, which had bought it a few years earlier. (2) In those years Emili Riu i Periquet had acquired the rights to the waters of the header of la Vall Fosca and was looking for investors to start the construction in Capdella.

Once secured rights over waters the process was very fast. The Barcelona Traction and Power Company obtained the statement of "public purpose" from the public authorites allowing the forcible expropriation. The negotiations for the expropriation of land for the construction of dams, industrial plants, high-tension towers, etc., were made with the affected municipalities and leaving aside the rest of the county. In exchange for minimum compensation (cheap or free electricity, force for industry and irrigation channels for dryland (3), and only in benefit of the people and neighbors affected by the expropriations), the "oil" pallarès soon began to flow towards Barcelona leaving much of the Pallars in the dark.

The big water jumps of the Noguera Pallaresa and Vall Fosca captured the electrical energy that was driven southward to the industrialized and rich Catalonia. Within a few years the process of electrification of the Catalan space would be a reality ... Except with respect to Pallars Sobirà. As often happens with the people of South countries that have to be begging for the few galons of gasoline that are not going to the countries of the North, no high-tension line was constructed in the direction of the Pallars Sobirà. There were promises and projects of a railway line (line Balaguer-St. Girons), which would had brought progress and the light toward the high Pallars, but that never moved further than the project phase.

High-voltage lines 1922:1) Serós-Camarasa-Sans. 2) Serós-Mora-Reus-Sans 3) Capdella-La Pobla-Manresa-St. AdreuFont: SÁNCHEZ I VILANOVA Llorenç: (1990) La Canadenca. Un fenomen econòmico-social que transformà el Pallars. La Pobla de Segur . pàg. 126

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This explains that in the north, above Collegats, the pallars people had to get smart to simply light a bulb at night. Small turbines and generators or alternators were installed next to the mills or sawmills or where there was a ravine with sufficient flow and unevenness. Places without water stream had to deal with energy producers or stay at dark. Once water rights obtained (which originated many conflicts) (4) could begin construction of the facility. The initiative was private or municipal. The electricity supply by a municipal mill linked perfectly with the medieval tradition of basic services from the consistorial uthority. But this effort to overcome the energy abandonment was ever unable to ensure a stable supply and continuity with the power required for industrial activities of all sorts, energy suply that was behind the economic growth of the rest of the country.

There was a sharp contrast in lifestyles and urban development between the low and high Pallars. While in La Pobla de Segur, Salàs or Tremp there was street lighting, power, sewage and running water, installing factories (textiles, wood, food, etc.), workshops, and where the houses were warmed with heaters and people could instal new appliances (5), Sort and Rialp could only lit a few bulbs at night. People from Tor, Norís, Freixa, Mallolís ... had to invest a lot of resources and wit to just illuminate on their own their homes at night, almost until the twenty-first century.

The modern and industrial Catalunya stood in Collegats. During the period 1910 to 1930 Pallars Jussà increased its population from 18,996 to 22,108 people (16.6%) while the Pallars Sobirà lost 1,127 (more than 12%) over the decade from 1920 to 1930. Even though when the decade of large hydraulic constructions had passed away and Pallars Jussà lost population, in the year 1950 population even exceeded the figure for 1910 in 789 people while the Pallars Sobirà had experienced a drop of 2,236 people, almost 18% of the population. (6)

The vast majority of these people were unable to enjoy the connection to the high-voltage network until the last quarter of the twentieth century. This situation endet with de construction of the Espot Central (HC built between 1950 and 1953, with water from the Escrita river with 9,760 kw power), and especially that of Llavorsí-Cardós of FECSA (built from 1960 to 1966 by harnessing the waters of Noguera de Cardós river, captured with a dam and a canal in Tavascan of 16 km with a power of 52,800 kW), requiring the construction of a line 25.000V south which could finally connect the peoples of Pallars Sobirà (7) (Sort was connected to the FECSA network in 1968). At last the people of Pallars Sobirà could install the first milking machines and the first household machines.

With electricity the Pallars Sobirà could finaly jump into the twentieth century and was possible the development of mountain tourism sectors that gave life to the region. The small centrals and mills quickly shut and bring to an end. Some private entrepreneurs keep on delivering their power to the distribution network FECSA. Others became workers in the company FECSA as was the case of Felip Montoliu Barò, the Gerri miller, supplying electricity to several towns.

By force one of the few industries that were developed in Pallars Sobirà during the first three quarters of the twentieth century was precisely the construction of small reservoirs, pipes and jumps, as well as the installation and maintenance of the machinery needed for electric production. Collaterally the water mills continued to operate when in the rest of Catalunya mills had been stopped decades ago.

In Gerri de la Sal functioned until the eighties a workshop capable of designing, constructing, equipping and bring the maintenance and repair of small electric centrals. Today this workshop is gone, its owner, Lluis Vilà, now retired, helped us (by telephone) to relate and collect data on the performance and power of many of the elctric centrals that operated in Pallars Sobirà.

We want to stress the work of millers, skilled people who could rent the mills, work that combine electric skills with the traditional mill skills. The Montoliu were a family who rented the Mola de Sall, the Tirvia mill, and possibly the Baro mill. They combined the craft of flour miller with self-taught electrician. A branch of the Montoliu had established in Tremp the workshop "Radio-Electra Montoliu" in Dr. Pearson 21 street during de forties.

1 All this historical analysis is very well explained by Horacio Capel: La electricidad en Cataluña, una historia por hacer a

2 El 1900 Tremp s'afanyava a resoldre el problema dels serveis domèstics d'aigua a la ciutat i pobles de la rodalia, solució que semblà poder-se trobar en un projecte que presentà el vell Jaume Clotet i Homs. El projecte consistia en construir una presa al paratge, conegut com "el barranc de Sant Pere" de Collegats, a 22 km de Tremp, que derivaria 16.000 l/seg. del cabal de la Noguera, suficient per abastar d'aigua tots els pobles de la ribera, i a més posar en regadiu 14.000 hectàrees de terreny. El 8 d'abril de 1900 es sol·licità de l'Administració la concessió pertinent, però es trobaren que se'ls havia avançat Domènec Sert. SÁNCHEZ I VILANOVA Llorenç: (1990) La Canadenca. Un fenomen econòmico-social que transformà el Pallars. La Pobla de Segur . pàg. 35

3 SÁNCHEZ I VILANOVA Llorenç: Op.cit, pàg. 34

4 SÁNCHEZ I VILANOVA Llorenç. Op.cit,pàg. 35

5 GIMENO, Manel (1999) Un segle i mig de botigues i indústries de la Pobla de Segur. Ajunt. de la Pobla de Segur. Pobla de Segur

6 SABARTÉS i GUIXÉS, JOSEP MARIA: L’Exode Pallarès Ed. Garsineu Tremp 1993. Pàg. 29

7 Mateu i Llevadot i altres (1983) El Pallars Sobirà. Estructura socio-econòmica i territorial. Ed. Caixa d’Estalvis de Catalunya.Barcelona. Pags. 258-268

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Why in the dark



The builders

Map Pallars

Registration waters

Inventory mills


List of mills