Once set to open by the end of 2015, the more than $500 million Meldahl hydroelectric dam is now expected to begin fully generating electricity for commercial purposes in March, said Doug Childs, energy management administrator for Hamilton.
Meldahl will be one of the largest hydroelectric power plants on the Ohio River, according to American Municipal Power, a partner with the city on the project.
It will provide another carbon-free source of power to the city’s business and residential electric customers.
Construction is now complete on the water-powered plant located in Foster, Ky., at the Captain Anthony B. Meldahl Dam and Locks along the Ohio River.
Two of three underwater turbine units are now turning and generating power, while the third turbine needs a part replaced, Childs said. All that’s left to do is a punch list of items and to commission the third turbine before Meldahl becomes fully operational, he said.
“We’re that close,” he said. “Anytime you get a project this big, you have a few issues.”
First proposed in 2005, the Meldahl hydroelectric project was licensed in 2008 by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The project is in partnership with American Municipal Power Inc., a nonprofit that owns and operates multiple power plants to generate electric for its municipal members in seven states. Hamilton is also a member of American Municipal.
Hamilton local government owns the majority stake in Meldahl, 51 percent, and American Municipal owns the rest.
“There’s been delays certainly due to weather and river conditions,” said Kent Carson, spokesman for American Municipal. “High river levels has affected their ability to do some testing and so forth.”
Since city leaders visited the construction site in 2014, most of the massive 10-story high concrete structure has been submerged underwater. Left above water is only the powerhouse.
Three water turbines installed in the facility will generate electricity from the flow of the river. Projections are that Meldahl could generate an average 558,000 megawatt hours a year, according to American Municipal. Total capacity will be 105 megawatts per an hour.
“It’s producing green carbon-free power as we speak,” Childs said.
The opening of Meldahl puts into motion the sale of not quite half of Hamilton’s ownership in another hydroelectric power plant called Greenup, which will be sold to American Municipal. Hamilton will still own a controlling interest, Childs said.
As a result of the sale of a portion of Greenup, the city expects to make proceeds of about $139 million that will be used to pay off the city’s remaining debt from Greenup. The remainder of the money will be spent on capital improvements and programs to benefit electrical customers, Childs said.
“It has to be for the benefit of the electric system. There are strong limitations,” he said.