OMU can't tap into Ohio River

CLEVELAND - - A hydroelectric plant, harnessing the power of the Ohio River to generate electricity, is expected to begin producing power for customers this month at the Cannelton Locks and Dam. Of course, the mighty Ohio also flows past Owensboro. The Cannelton dam is about 35 miles upstream of Owensboro.

Could Owensboro also get hydroelectric electric power from the Ohio River? That is, could Owensboro Municipal Utilities, which already operates a coal-fired power plant next to the river, build a pollution-free hydroelectric plant here? At a recent Owensboro City Commission, that very suggestion was made.

But the short answer is no.

"OMU does not currently have any plans to generate hydroelectric power from the Ohio River," said OMU spokeswoman Sonya Dixon. The problem is cost and the very obvious lack of a dam at Owensboro.

"We have evaluated the Cannelton project, along with other potential power sources, but it is cost-prohibitive when compared with OMU's current source of energy," Dixon said. "Owensboro is not a candidate for hydroelectric systems as these types of power sources must include locks and dams. This technology requires elevation differences from upstream to downstream pools."

The new American Municipal Power triple-unit plant next to the Cannelton dam on the Indiana side of the river was built to generate 84-megawatts at a construction cost of $416 million. Construction began in 2009. Cannelton Locks and Dam was built in the 1960s and early '70s. The upper pool elevation is normally 383 feet above sea level and the lower level is usually 358 feet, creating a difference of 25 feet. For the AMP plant to operate, river water is diverted through the plant's trio of giant rotor blades. But before the water gets to the rotor blades, it runs through tube channels that get narrower as the water gets closer to the rotors, increasing the water pressure and turning the rotors, which resemble propellers on a ship. Each rotor is about 25 feet in diameter, an AMP official said earlier.

The power from the Cannelton plant will eventually be distributed to 79 municipal utilities in four states, with a portion going to Paducah and Princeton, the company said.

The Cannelton Locks and Dam took 11 years to build at a cost of $98 million in 1963 dollars $716 million in 2016 dollars. The locks were built first and began operating in 1966. It was 1974 before the dam was finished.

But while OMU won't be building a hydroelectric plant here anytime soon if ever, it does have a stake in hydroelectric production. "We do currently have 25 MW megawatts of hydro capacity from the Cumberland River system of dams operated by the Southeast Power Administration SEPA of the Department of Energy," Dixon said. OMU has been reaping financial benefit from the sale of hydroelectricity produced at Cumberland River dams for years, including the Wolf Creek Dam in Russell County.

OMU receives a financial benefit from SEPA power because as a not-for-profit municipal utility, by federal law it has a right to a certain amount of electrical power generated by government-owned dams on the Cumberland River. OMU's portion of that power is then sold, with OMU receiving the revenue.


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