Sunday, August 12, 2001

River system varies as power source

By Tom O'Neill
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        River water as electricity. As theories go, it's beautiful in its simplicity.

        But a half-century after the Ohio River's dam system was constructed with an eye toward taking advantage of hydroelectricity, results remain mixed.

        Seven of the Ohio's 19 locks and dams have hydroelectric facilities, but their output is minimal. Because of fluctuating river flows, it's also unpredictable.

        Cinergy's facility at the Markland Dam near Gallatin County, Ky., for instance, was built in 1967 for $20 million and remains profitable, Cinergy spokesman Steve Brash said.

        Its average output of about 45 megawatts per day is enough to provide electricity for about 15,000 residential customers in Indiana. For a utility the size of Cinergy, that's a drop in the river.

        By comparison, Cinergy's Zimmer coal plant produces 1,300 megawatts in the same period.

        “It certainly is an advantage to us to have Markland's output available,” Mr. Brash said. “But the issue you face with hydro is that your availability is dependent on river flow.”

        Production at Markland ranges from about 20 to 90 megawatts, so it's too unpredictable to rely on heavily, Mr. Brash said.

        “The primary issue with hydro on the Ohio output is relatively small and it's too variable,” he said. “So you really cannot count on it as a source of peak power.”

        The city of Augusta, Ky., understands all that.

        Still, in 1987 it began the 7-year process seeking the hydroelectric rights to the Meldahl Dam through the Federal Regulatory Commission. Two other cities, including Hamilton, applied. Augusta won.

        The city has yet to make a penny because Augusta doesn't have the $100 million to build a facility, and hasn't been able to persuade a utility company to do it, either.

        “We haven't been able to sell the power for enough to finance the project,” said Eddie Hay, chairman of Augusta's hydroelectricity board. “Maybe with some new technology, so we can build it cheaper, we can come up with somebody who can finance it.”

        Augusta will lose its license if nothing is in construction by 2004, Mr. Hay said.

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