Posted: 6:00 a.m. Friday, March 7, 2014

Hamilton hydroelectric power plant, Ohio River’s largest, nears completion

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Hamilton hydroelectric power plant, Ohio River’s largest, nears completion
Staff photo by Greg Lynch
The site of the Meldahl Hydroelectric Plant. The plant is expected to generate 105 megawatts of new renewable generation to the region.


Hamilton hydroelectric power plant, Ohio River’s largest, nears completion photo
The Meldahl hydroelectric power plant under construction in Foster, Ky. The plant, jointly owned by Hamilton and American Municipal Power Inc., will generate electricity using water power with no emissions.
Hamilton hydroelectric power plant, Ohio River’s largest, nears completion photo
Linda Scott
The $500 million Meldahl Hydroelectric Plant should open early 2015.

By Chelsey Levingston

Staff Writer


City government is nearing the finish line of a 10-year, approximately $500 million project to build a new water-powered electric plant along the Ohio River.

Construction on the new power plant, named Meldahl, is more than 80 percent complete, said Doug Childs, Hamilton public utilities director. Plans are to start all three of Meldahl’s water turbine generation units, with capacity to generate a total 105 megawatts, by the end of March 2015.

Once operational, 65 percent to 70 percent of Hamilton’s electric consumption will be generated using carbon-free, pollution-free emission sources, including Meldahl and other power sources, Childs said.

“We’re taking advantage of a free resource flowing down the Ohio River to generate clean electricity for our customers,” Childs said.

Power plants are a long-term bet, and a growing emphasis over time on green energy will make the Meldahl plant increasingly more valuable to the city in the future, Childs said.

“It’s a generational decision. What we’re going to do today is going to be around 50 to 100 years from now,” he said.

The Meldahl project in Foster, Ky., is being built at the Captain Anthony B. Meldahl Dam and Locks. The project is in partnership with American Municipal Power Inc., a nonprofit that owns and operates multiple power plants to generate electric for its 129 municipal members in seven states. Hamilton is also a member of American Municipal.

Hamilton owns the majority stake in Meldahl, 51 percent, and American Municipal owns the rest.

Meldahl is one of four hydroelectric plants being built simultaneously on the Ohio River in Kentucky and West Virginia, said Kent Carson, spokesman for American Municipal. All four are slated to open by the end of 2015. Of the facilities under construction, and water plants already existing on the river, Meldahl will be the largest by generation capacity, Carson said.

Meldahl is “what’s called a run-of-the-river hydroelectric. The power plant is being built adjacent to an existing dam,” Carson said. “All we’re doing is taking some of the water that normally flows over the dam and diverting it to a generation facility, so the environmental impact is extremely minimal.”

“It’s part of a strategic effort by AMP to develop generation assets because our members have been overly exposed to the wholesale electricity market to get the electricity they need. The market has been somewhat unpredictable,” Carson said.

First proposed in 2005, the Meldahl hydroelectric project was licensed in 2008 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

To date, the concrete and steel structure is built, Childs said. Crews are working to install the equipment. Later this year, work still needs done to do dredging and other outside ground work.

Part of the structure will be underwater, and a temporary dam put in place for construction will be breached this spring.

“We’re on the last leg,” Childs said.

Before Meldahl can open, every component has to be commissioned or inspected.

“We’re competitive on our (electric) rates right now, but going forward we think we’ll be even more competitive because we shouldn’t have the risk on the upside that a lot of our competitors do,” Childs said.

“Once you build your hydros you have no fuel risk. Not necessarily (because of) disruption, (but) that water’s not going to cost anymore five years from now,” compared to fluctuating prices of diesel fuel, natural gas or coal, he said.

Hamilton officials say the government is the only municipality in Ohio that owns four utilities servicing residents: water, wastewater, natural gas and electric.

Hamilton owns its electric generation assets, with ownership stakes in five power plants in Butler County, elsewhere in Ohio, Illinois and the one under construction in Northern Kentucky. By comparison, other utilities such as Duke Energy reach contracts with power generators for their electricity supply, and Duke is selling its owned power plants in the Midwest.

In fact, the city already owns one hydroelectric power plant. Greenup, opened in 1982, is a water-powered plant in Portsmouth, also on the Ohio River. It has a total 70 megawatts of generating capacity. However, 60 days after Meldahl becomes operational, a 49 percent ownership stake will be sold to American Municipal Power. Proceeds will be used to pay down the city’s remaining debt on Greenup, Childs said.

Hamilton has ownership rights to 35 megawatts of capacity at Prairie State Energy Campus, a coal-fired power plant in Lively Grove, Ill. Additionally, the city owns rights to 35 megawatts of capacity at natural gas-fired power plant Fremont Energy Center, in Fremont, Ohio, operated and partly owned by American Municipal.

Two peaking plants, used only at the most in-demand times, are owned in Butler County. A power plant on North Third Street in Hamilton burned coal until recently. Its burners were converted to all natural gas in 2013, Childs said. In a joint venture with American Municipal, Hamilton also owns a natural gas plant on North Gilmore Road.

The city has 29,300 electric meters or customers, and sold 566,000 megawatts of power in 2013 for $58.2 million, Childs said.

Hamilton generates more electricity than its customers use. Excess is sold to PJM Interconnection, the group managing the electric grid serving 13 states, including Ohio and Washington, D.C.

Mohawk Fine Papers, at the time the paper mill closed in 2012, was the city’s single-largest electric customer, Childs said.

“We’ve lost some loads in the city,” due to the economic downturn and businesses closing, he said.

So why add more power sources?

“We’re projecting about a 1 (to) 1.5 percent electric growth” per year for the next 20 years, Childs said. “We’re also planning for retirement of units that don’t last forever. It’s kind of a balancing act.”


By the numbers

The city of Hamilton owns four utilities: water, wastewater, gas and electric

29,200 electric meter customers

566,000 megawatt hours sold in 2013

$58.2 million electric sales to city customers in 2013

Sources of electric power

1. Greenup, a hydroelectric (water) power plant in Portsmouth, also on Ohio River

  • Completely owned by Hamilton
  • 60 days after Meldahl becomes operational, 49% will be sold to American Municipal Power. Proceeds will be used to pay down remaining debt on Greenup
  • Total 70 megawatt capacity
  • Runs year-round


2. Prairie State Energy Campus, Lively Grove, Ill.

  • Hamilton has ownership rights to 35 megawatts of capacity
  • Coal-fired


3. Fremont Energy Center, Fremont, Ohio

  • Hamilton has ownership rights to 35 megawatts of capacity
  • Jointly owned and operated by American Municipal Power
  • Opened in 2012
  • Natural gas-fired


4. Third Street Power Plant, Hamilton

  • Completely owned by Hamilton
  • 115 megawatt capacity
  • All units converted to natural gas in 2013
  • Peaking plant


5. Omega JV II, North Gilmore Road, Hamilton

  • Jointly owned by Hamilton and American Municipal Power
  • 32 megawatt capacity
  • Natural gas-fired
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