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Smithland hydro plant remains on schedule

BY DAVID ZOELLER dzoeller@paducahsun.com

SMITHLAND â “ To get an idea of the scope of the hydroelectric facility under construction here by American Municipal Power,  imagine a 10-story concrete building â “ with 8 1/2 of those stories underground.

Smithland is one of three hydroelectric facilities under construction by the Columbus, Ohio-based company at a combined cost of just over $2 billion. It will ultimately supply some electricity to customers of Paducah Power System, one of 79 communities in five states participating in the project.

"Construction is progressing as expected for completion in 2015," said Kent Carson, AMP spokesman.

The project will divert water from the existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Smithland locks and dam, which will pass through the concrete structure which houses three horizontal bulb-type turbine and generating units before being channeled back into the Ohio River. The facility will generate 72 megawatts of power.

While nearly 400 workers have been employed in building the facility, no more than nine permanent employees will be needed on site when the plant is complete, according to AMP. Carson said the company's existing Belleville, W.Va., hydroelectric plant, which is smaller than Smithland, annually contributes close to $3 million to the local economy, demonstrating its potential economic impact.

Some  95,000 cubic yards of concrete are being used in the project. The concrete is mixed on site, Carson said, using sand that was separated from the soil during the initial excavation. The  construction site currently covers about 100 acres. 

According to Carson, construction of the Smithland project along with similar projects at Corps locks and dams at Cannelton (near Hawesville) and Willow Island (near St. Marys, W.Va.), will generate approximately 200 megawatts of power combined. The three facilities are being financed with long-term bonds that will be repaid by the participating communities.

A fourth hydroelectric facility being constructed at Meldahl (near Maysville), in partnership with the Hamilton, Ohio community, will bring AMP's hydro power generation to just over 300 megawatts.

According to Dave Clark, PPS general manager, Paducah has agreed to purchase 15 megawatts of power from the Smithland facility. That purchase was figured into PPS' rate structure so customers' rates will not change when the purchase of the hydro power begins, according to Clark.

Paducah Power gets approximately 80 percent of its energy from Prairie State Energy Campus, an Illinois-based coal-fired facility, and another 10 percent from its gas-fired peaking plant on Schneidman Road. Paducah Power also buys some hydro power from the Southeastern Power Administration.

According to Carson, AMP started pursuing hydroelectric power as a strategy to help its members diversify their power portfolios and reduce their exposure to the wholesale market, which can be volatile.

Contact David Zoeller, a Paducah Sun staff writer, at 270-575-8676.

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