Thursday, November 15, 2012

Kaukauna Utility rebuilds century-old hydroelectric plant

Journel Sentinel's Thomas Content highlights a hydroelectric rebuild project in Kaukauna. This is exactly the kind of renewable energy project the utilities should do more of. See the original article here.

Boldt Construction workers clean the bedrock of a canal where a new powerhouse will be built on the Fox River in Kaukauna. In order to construct the new powerhouse, the canal was drained and rebuilt and an additional 20 feet of bedrock was removed to make space for the new turbines.

An unusual construction project in Kaukauna will keep electricity flowing thanks to the currents of the Fox River.

The project is the rebuilding of the Badger Hydro generating station, which has been producing electricity for more than 100 years.

The $38 million project is retiring an old, small hydro plant, the circa-1908 Old Badger, and rebuilding the project known as New Badger - which dates to 1927.

When the project is completed late next year, Kaukauna Utilities will be generating more power from one new generator than it was from the two older ones combined, said Jeff Feldt, executive director of Kaukauna Utilities.

The municipal utility supplies 20% of its customers' electricity needs from hydroelectric power, a form of renewable energy that has been part of Wisconsin for generations but doesn't get as much attention as newer technologies like wind and solar.

Investing in hydroelectric power makes sense for customers long term, though it will mean an increase in rates for the small utility's customers next year, Feldt said.

"We know that this plant should last 100 years because we had proof sitting right next door," he said. "When you look at what this does for our customers going forward, it is a significant advantage to have hydro."

Because the power is derived from the river's flow, it means the plant has no fuel costs. That will help insulate customers from future fuel price increases.

Rebuilding the project has been an unusual piece of work. The long, 12-foot-deep canal off the Fox River where the project sits had to be drained - one foot per day - beginning in May.

Before construction could begin, the utility had to hire a fisheries consultant to conduct a "fish rescue."

More than 5,000 fish - 23 species in all - were rescued and moved to the Fox River, Feldt said.

After the draining came the demolition of one of the two old hydro plants and then much-needed work to shore up the stone walls of the man-made canal that was originally built 130 years ago, Feldt said.

"Once we drained the power canal, you saw the workmanship that was done 130 years ago was just amazing," he said.

Contractors with Boldt Construction saved many of those stones, which will be reused to give the canal walls above the water line a historic and familiar look.

"From the public's perspective it will look very much like it did originally, but from a structural perspective it will be much more sound and watertight, so to speak," said Paul Coenen, vice president at Boldt Construction who is overseeing the project.

Boldt is active in building energy projects, from the Charter St. natural-gas-fired power plant in downtown Madison to the biomass generation plant under construction for We Energies at the Domtar paper mill in Rothschild.

Boldt has had experience with repairing hydro plants, but, "This is the first time that I know that we've done an entire rebuild," said Coenen.

What makes it unique, other than working in the bottom of a canal?

"It's a construction project that spans six to seven city blocks," said Coenen. "It's just a long distance from one end to the other. It creates somewhat of a communication and organization and logistical challenge, by how spread out the job is."

When it's completed, the new project will generate 7 megawatts of power - an increase of 25% from the two old plants - enough to serve about 4,000 homes.

That's small in the scheme of the major power plants built in Wisconsin in recent years.

"But it's big for Kaukauna Utilities," said Feldt, whose power company serves 14,000 customers.

A typical Kaukauna Utilities customer would see prices rise by about 6.3%, or $5.44 a month.

"It is a rate increase, but it is an investment in the future and will help stabilize our rates going forward," said Feldt.

The state Public Service Commission is reviewing the Kaukauna Utilities' rate increase request.

Find the original article here.

No comments: