Berea College is building on the success of the Matilda Hamilton Fee Hydroelectric Station at Lock 12 on the Kentucky River by partnering with Appalachian Hydro Associates to build a second hydropower plant 35 miles upstream at Lock and Dam 14 near Heidelberg in Lee County.
In 2021, Berea College became the first higher education institution in the nation to complete construction of a hydroelectric generating plant, located on the Kentucky River near Ravenna.
Lock 14—like Lock 12—was originally built and used for navigation and was abandoned in the mid-1990s. The dam currently is used for water supply and to maintain the river for recreational use.
In January, the Berea College Board of Trustees gave the go-ahead for the second project.
“As the Matilda Hamilton Fee Hydroelectric Station project matured, and as we started to receive returns on our investment, our Board of Trustees permitted us to proceed with this second project,” said Berea College President Lyle Roelofs. “I like to say that every molecule of water will work twice for us once we get the second project up and running.”
The Lock 12 project—the first new small hydro project built in Kentucky in 94 years—allowed Berea College and its partner Appalachian Hydro Associates to learn valuable lessons that are being carried over to the new project. Additionally, new equipment options and design concepts are available, allowing Lock 14 to produce 30 percent more power. The new project will still incorporate many important features demonstrated at Lock 12, such as submersible turbine-generators to handle the huge floods on the Kentucky River and construction in the abandoned lock chamber to eliminate the need for a large cofferdam, which is typical in most hydro-plant construction.
With this second project, the existing electrical usage of Berea College will be more than entirely offset by hydropower.
“With our new project at Lock 14, Berea College is once again demonstrating its commitment to environmental sustainability,” Roelofs said. “With these two projects, we are not just teaching our students about the value of renewable, carbon-free energy generation. These projects demonstrate our commitment to Appalachian communities as we deliver on our commitment to mindful and sustainable living.
“We can do something that’s operationally sustainable, we can be a model for other organizations, and we can do something that will benefit the economy in the counties that have been hampered by national changes in the economy,” he added.
Other agencies and firms involved in the project include the Kentucky River Authority, Jackson Energy Cooperative, Wright Concrete & Construction of Pikeville, Rimar Electric of Winchester, Modern Welding of Kentucky, Kleinschmidt Group and Voith.
The new Lock 14 powerhouse will be placed in the existing lock chamber and constructed out of reinforced concrete. The powerhouse will be 52 feet wide and 18.5 feet long.
Unlike the powerhouse at Lock 12, the new powerhouse will employ a submerged horizontal trash rack, with the upper pool being maintained with a movable spillway so there is no part of the powerhouse visible above the lock chamber. The spillway can be lowered to allow the river to flush downstream any debris that builds up.
The powerhouse will contain six Voith StreamDiver submersible turbine-generator units, consisting of four 14.9 StreamDiver axial flow 1490-millimeter propeller turbines directly coupled to a 645-kilowatt permanent magnet generator and two 8.95 StreamDiver axial flow 895-millimeter propeller turbines directly coupled to a 225-kilowatt permanent magnet generator. The total output of the plant will be 3,030 kilowatts.
The StreamDiver units will be mounted horizontally so the water can travel straight through, as opposed to the vertical units used at Lock 12. This change in the turbine mounting from vertical to horizontal, will reduce the amount of concrete needed for the powerhouse by 60 percent as compared to Lock 12.
The controls for the plant will be housed in a control building high on the riverbank, which is 20 feet wide and 42 feet long, and will be 28 feet tall at its peak. The control building will contain switchgear, transformers, air compressors and the controls needed to operate the hydroelectric plant. The control building will be connected to the powerhouse and on to the nearby Jackson Energy distribution system.
Construction of the project has already begun with equipment being fabricated off-site, and on-site work is scheduled to begin later this year. The Lock 14 project should take about two years to build and should be producing power by May 2024.
“This project has world-class engineering from AHA, Kleinschmidt and Voith as well as Jackson Energy and other forward-thinking partners with the shared vision of a more sustainable future,” said Judge Wilson II, Berea College general counsel. “We are thankful to everyone involved, including the Kentucky River Authority and our trustees, who have been very supportive from the beginning.”
As with Lock 12, revenues generated by the project will help support Berea’s mission of educating students of limited financial means from the Appalachian region and beyond.