Hamilton creating energy through power of moving water

Full operation of Meldahl plant continues a significant shift toward greener energy production.

The city’s electric utility now creates almost half the energy it produces through the power of moving water, with a new hydroelectric plant in full operation at the Meldahl Locks and Dam on the Ohio River.

That continues a significant shift toward greener production of energy by Hamilton since 2003 — on its own, and in cooperation with other cities.

In 2003, some 35.1 percent of the power it produced or purchased was hydroelectric, with 43.5 percent coming from burning coal. The remainder that year was purchased from other utilities, and represented a mix of generation types that can’t easily be traced back to the source.

With the Meldahl facility, about a 45-minute drive upriver from downtown Cincinnati to Chilo, Ohio, in full operation since April 12, the city estimates hydro power this year will make up 49.2 percent of its energy portfolio, compared with the projection of 30.8 percent from coal, and 16.7 percent from cleaner-burning natural gas.

“When you look at the mix of resources, and you’re looking back at let’s say, the 2007-2008 period, our primary resources were the Hamilton power plant, which at that time was a coal-fired generating station, and (the hydroelectric station at) Greenup (Locks and Dam, also on the Ohio River),” said Kevin Maynard, Hamilton’s director of public utilities.

“As we look at the resource mix we have today, even with the (coal-burning) Prairie State Energy Campus (near Lively Grove, Ill.), that is one of the cleanest coal-fired generating stations in the United States,” Maynard said.

Meanwhile, Hamilton is part owner, through the American Municipal Power organization, of a natural-gas generating station in Fremont, Ohio; the Prairie State facility (of which AMP owns about 23 percent); and two natural-gas combustion turbine facilities, in Hamilton itself.

Coal-burning power plants are a significant creator of ozone gases, which scientists say are leading to global warming and also contribute to such health problems as asthma and cardiovascular problems. Butler, Warren and Preble counties last week received grades of F for the numbers of days they have unsafe ozone levels, in the American Lung Association's 2016 State of the Air report.

As part of AMP, Hamilton also buys electricity from the New York Power Authority’s hydroelectric plants on the Niagra River and St. Lawrence Seaway. Hamilton since 1963 has also operated a small hydroelectric plant on a canal along the Great Miami River.

AMP spokesman Kent Carson said his organization since 2000 has evolved from one that helped arrange wholesale power purchases for its member communities to an entity that owns its own power-generating plants.

That was prompted by energy-cost volatility during the early years of this century, when AMP communities like Hamilton sought to stabilize their energy costs.

Wholesale energy-market prices “have been pretty stable the past few years, but there’s been some pretty big dips and pretty big spikes during that time,” Carson said. “And the problem with being that much exposed to the wholesale market is you can’t control your costs over a long term.”

Increasingly moving into greener energy, AMP is building, or recently finished, three other hydroelectric plants on the Ohio River that Hamilton is not a participant in. AMP also is launching solar-energy-production, Carson said.

In another green initiative, Hamilton recently signed a deal with U.S. Gain Clean Fuel to market its compressed natural gas filling station at 2220 S. Erie Blvd. to truckers nationwide.

That fuel source, which creates less pollution than gasoline and diesel, is increasingly being used by heavy trucks.

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