Hundreds turn out in Kentucky for Hamilton’s hydro-plant dedication

A contingent of current and former Hamilton leaders and employees was welcomed Thursday by local and state officials from Kentucky, who presented them with a flag of the commonwealth to fly at the Meldahl Hydroelectric Plant a bit upstream of tiny Foster, Ky.

About 200 people in all showed up on a steamy Thursday morning for the dedication of the facility that cost about $685 million, including interest payments during construction. Many who attended came from 47 other American Municipal Power communities — like Cleveland, Piqua, Bowling Green and Yellow Springs, and Paducah, Ky. — that now own a piece of the plant.

City Manager Joshua Smith and others praised several of his successors and numerous other Hamilton employees and city council members in recent decades who took actions that led to the plant, which is owned 51.4 percent by Hamilton, with the other communities owning the rest.

Marc Gerken, the president and CEO of AMP, called the massive plant, with its generating capacity of 105 megawatts, the biggest-producing hydro plant on the Ohio River.

The 10-story concrete structure, with only one level above the river, has three mammoth four-bladed “propellers” that spin relatively slowly — “only” 62.5 rotations per minute, allowing fish to pass through with rare injuries. When water is passing through the plant at peak flow, 8.6 million gallons of river a minute pass each propeller, enough to fill 13 Olympic-sized pools.

Most astonishingly, Gerken told the crowd, was that while the tip of each propeller’s blade from its opposite is 32 feet, the distance from the edge of each blade to the tube surrounding it is only “the width of three business cards.”

The city says hydro power now makes up 49.2 percent of its energy portfolio.

In the 1980s, Hamilton tried to get a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a hydroelectric plant at the Capt. Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam, to join another Hamilton plant that began operating at the Greenup Locks and Dam upriver in 1982.

Mike Perry, now Hamilton’s Director of Project Implementation, the city’s joined staff in 1995, and knew of that effort, in which Augusta, Ky. ended up with a hydroelectric license for the site but never began construction. In 2005 Perry met with others about future power supplies, and was told it was the best site on the river to build such a facility.

“We then met with City Council, former Mayor Don Ryan was there,” along with others, including current Mayor Patrick Moeller and Vice Mayor Carla Fiehrer, he said: “We asked for $2 million (of electric-rate funds) to compete for the license,” Perry told the audience. Now, that’s a big deal. I made an impassioned speech, and they said ‘yes.’ Imagine that.”

“Imagine also, this is the largest low-head, direct-drive, ball-turbine unit in the world,” Perry announced proudly.

FERC later rejected the city’s license application. But FERC did cancel Augusta’s license, “and we entered into competition with a large Kentucky utility for the license,” Perry said. “We submitted our final application, and there’s no doubt that Hamilton had the best adaptive project developed for the site.”

“This is truly a generational project,” Perry added, noting Henry Ford’s small hydroelectric plant in on a Great Miami canal will soon mark 100 years of operation, while the Greenup plant on the Ohio is relatively young at 34 years of operation. “And I expect that this project will be operating well over 100 years, serving the 48 communities.”

Gerken, of AMP, praised Hamilton for securing the FERC license, something he said “takes vision, it takes a lot of willpower — I want to support all the elected officials here for standing by this project as it went through its paces.”

AMP’s participation helped Hamilton finance the mammoth construction, which required 2.45 million labor-hours of work; 1.14 million cubic yards of earth excavation (about 100,000 dump-truck loads worth), plus 114,398 cubic yards of concrete and 12.8 million pounds of steel.

Steve Dupee, chairman of AMP’s board of trustees, told Hamilton officials and others who attended: “I cannot express in words how much we appreciate the incredible foresight of the city of Hamilton for making this project a reality.”

Dupee and others said the plant will help member communities reduce fuel-cost volatility, and will help them meet future clean-energy standards.

Mayor Moeller noted “many Hamilton residents have a proud Kentucky heritage — many of our homes display UK Wildcat flags, and there’s a basketball jersey of Hamilton native Kevin Grevey that hangs in Rupp Arena. And also many of our residents have graduated from Kentucky universities and colleges.”

“But now Hamilton has a new, strong, clean, green, energy connection with the commonwealth,” Moeller added.

After the ceremony, Smith said the city will likely fly the state’s flag along with those of Ohio, Hamilton, and the United States, at the site. But: “I’ll get council’s approval first.”

“It’s not often that we’ll be credited for making a decision that will last 80-100 years, but everybody involved in this project can certainly be proud of this accomplishment,” said Jeff Brediger, vice chairman of AMP’s trustees, and the utilities director of the city of Orrville.

As part of the construction, Hamilton and AMP were required to build a fishing park along the Kentucky shore at the site, which prompted Kentucky state Rep. Mike Denham, who represents the area, to say, “Thank you very much for this wonderful fishing park.”

The fishing area was being visited Thursday by Newport, Ky., resident, and Hamilton native Kevin Owens, who says he loves catching bait fish and strikers, plus saugers when it’s cold. Owens, who used to live in Lindenwald, rides his motorcycle down the scenic two-lane Ky. 8 highway along the river to the site, he said. With the work now completed, “I’m going to come more, now,” Owens said.

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