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Hamilton looks to second site on Ohio River in reviving HenryFord's vision for power from water
(This is the fourth and final part in a series on Henry Ford, the Hamilton Hydraulic and the city’s recent developments in hydro-electric power.)

Contributed by Jim Blount

"Another step forward" for the city said the Hamilton Journal in reporting a successful test of the hydro-electric plant at the recently opened Fordson tractor plant. It "marked the culmination of Henry Ford’s dream to harness the Great Miami River to make it furnish electric power," said the Nov. 8, 1920, article.

Ninety years later, the "old" is "new" as the City of Hamilton moves to increase reliance on modern hydropower to provide electricity to about 30,000 customers. .

Ford’s dream utilized part of a local water power system that had opened in 1845. In July 1918, he paid about $200,000 to acquire the outmoded Hamilton & Rossville Hydraulic Co. For at least 45 years, the hydraulic drew water out of the river north of Hamilton to turn waterwheels attached to wheels, pulleys and gears in local factories. Water fell 29 feet before returning to the river at the west end of Market Street.

To permit "proper changes in the hydraulic system," Ford spent about $50,000 to buy land north of the tractor plant. He transformed it from strictly water power to using water to generate electricity.

The original hydraulic started losing customers in the late 1880s when it became affordable to transport coal to Hamilton for steam generation. Another setback for the hydraulic came Sept. 19, 1895, when a coal-fired municipal electric generating plant went into operation.

Hamilton's "Great Electric Light Celebration" was celebrated with a parade, band concert, 50-gun salute and ringing fire bells and ended fireworks and ignition of 215 street lights.

The $100,000 municipal facility on North Third Street included a pair of 60-kilowatt arc lighting machines and three Corliss engines manufactured by the Hooven, Owens, Rentschler Co. of Hamilton. Homeowners realized a 40 percent savings in switching from gas to electric lighting. Electricity was available 24 hours. Previously, a private company provided gas for lighting only between twilight and midnight.

The study said electricity would save the city about $20,000, plus allowing street lights to be ignited from a central source, not individually as with gas.

Before municipal electricity, said Nelson Williams, the featured speaker at the Sept. 19, 1895, ceremony, Hamilton was "a great and enterprising city." But "over it all (was) a pall of darkness at night, with here and there a faint suspicion of a gas light shining through smoke glass." Williams said it "was not a picture calculated to win favorable commendation from the strangers" who visited the city.

In 1920, the city plant’s 1,000 kilowatts wasn't enough to meet demand. Additional energy was purchased from Ford’s hydro system. The tractor plant was across the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad tracks from the municipal plant.

A new city electric plant completed in 1929 included two 3,000-kilowatt generating units and a third unit of 7,500 kilowatt capacity was added later that year. Later, as electric demand increased, the city made other improvements.

After Ford closed its local factory, its hydro power plant was included in the property sale to the Bendix Aviation Corp. in 1951. When Bendix moved out in 1963, Ford’s visionary makeover of the Hamilton hydraulic was purchased by the city to supplement the production of its nearby coal-fired generating plant.

In 1982, the city took a major step in adding more non-polluting capacity. The Greenup plant, east of Portsmouth at river mile marker 341, was completed in 1982 by Vanceburg, Ky. Hamilton started buying Greenup power in December 1982, when the Kentucky city faced financial difficulties associated with the plant. After a legal battle involving both cities, Hamilton paid $169.1 million for the Greenup operation in May 1988.
Greenup produces 285,000 Mwh per year.

Greenup was one of the first prefabricated power plants constructed off-site and shipped to a prepared site. Erection was in St. Nazaire, France. The power plant was shipped 955 miles on the Mississippi River and 639 miles on the Ohio River. The power plant -- separated into two sections while traveling the river -- arrived at the site in July 1981.

In 1990 the city started the complex and uncertain process of acquiring access to more renewable energy. Hamilton’s second Ohio River hydro-electric location will be at the Mehldahl locks and dam, about 50 miles east of Cincinnati and 95 river miles down river from the Greenup dam.

Mehdahl, including a 1,756-foot dam and two lock chambers, was completed in 1964. It is at mile marker 436.2 on the 981-mile Ohio River.

In June 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued Hamilton a license to build and operate a generator on the Kentucky side of the Mehdahl site. During its 10-year effort, the city had some competitors for the license.

Also in 2008, Hamilton signed an agreement to share ownership and use of output at both the Greenup and future Mehdahl power plants with AMP-Ohio (American Municipal Power-Ohio), which includes other municipalities. Hamilton is the majority owner.

Meldahl -- a $550 million project -- is expected to produce about 520,000 Mwh per year, possibly as early as 2013. It will be the largest hydroelectric power plant on the Ohio River.

According to a city report, "once operational, the Meldahl plant, combined with Greenup, will provide the City of Hamilton with approximately 65 to 70 percent green power."

Hamilton also is involved in a partnership in the Prairie State Energy Campus, an electric generating station and coal mine planned in Lively Grove, Ill. The complex, according to the city, "will provide clean, low-cost electricity" in 2012.

"Prairie State will be among the cleanest major coal-fueled plants in the nation, using an innovative application of technologies," the city says. "The plant will use pulverized coal technology to fuel a boiler and produce steam. The steam drives a turbine, which in turn, drives an electrical generator, sending electricity throughout the grid. It is anticipated that coal reserves will be ‘in’ for the next 40-years, providing long-term, stable electric rates for the partners."

Obviously, Henry Ford would be pleased that his 1918 dream of developing water power for American homes and industry is gaining popularity. According to a 2009 report, only 3 percent of about 80,000 U. S. Dams are used to generate electricity.


Hamilton & Rossville Hydraulic Facts

: Provide water power for mills and factories along its course; attract new industry and jobs to Hamilton. There were no mills or shops along the course of the hydraulic when the project was conceived. Waterway was five feet deep, 45 feet wide at the water line and 35 feet wide at the bottom.

: In 1840 by eohn W. Erwin of Hamilton. Erwin also involved in designing hydraulic systems in Middletown, Franklin and Troy in Ohio; Goshen, Elkhart and Bristol in Indiana; and in Constantine, Mich

: Enabling act passed by Ohio General Assembly March 25, 1841.

: The Hamilton & Rossville Hydraulic Company formed Jan. 1, 1842; private company, not a government agency. No money from government. Officers: William Bebb, president; Lewis C. Campbell, secretary; Henry S. Earhart, treasurer; eohn C. Skinner and eohn W. Erwin, chief engineers; Dr. Jacob Hittel, eohn Woods, Laomi Rigdon, Andrew McCleary and Jacob Matthias, directors.

: Oct. 26, 1841, by Samuel Forrer, arbiter appointed by the Ohio General Assembly to settle dispute involving Hamilton and Rossville.

: Jan. 31, 1845.

: 166 pairs of millstones in the plan. Each to rent for $150 a year. System relied on steady downhill flow of water that rotated millstones in the hydraulic channel. The revolving axles in the millstones connected to a network of wheels, pulleys and gears that powered machinery inside each shop.

: Fall of 29 feet in the water line over the course of the hydraulic canal. Great Miami River ran at 26,132 feet a minute (1840 survey). Included two reservoirs, the Big Reservoir (24 acres ranging in depth from 15 to 24 feet) and the Little Reservoir (more than six acres, 18 to 20 feet in depth) that stored water.

: Originated at dam on Great Miami River about four miles north of Hamilton (near end of present Canal Road) and flowed in southwestern direction. Main route continued south along course of present North Fifth Street and west along present Market Street (then Stable Street). Water returned to the river near the present intersection of Market Street and Monument Avenue (between former municipal building and the Courtyard by Marriott). Other branches in north end of city, including a channel that paralleled the river and Monument Avenue before joining the main channel at Market Street.

: No factories on its route when planned and built. Became prime source of industrial power for 30 to 40 years. Impetus for industrialization of Hamilton. City's population more than doubled in decade -- from 1,409 people in 1840 to 3,210 in 1850.

: Started construction in May 1849. Flowed from a dam across Great Miami River north of Rossville, near the present intersection of North B Street and West Elkton Road. Then south along the west bank of the river to a point at the foot of Wayne Avenue (then known as North Street). Not as successful as hydraulic on east side of river in Hamilton.