By: Lisa Bicknell
A dedication service was held on Tuesday, Sept. 21, for the Matilda Hamilton Fee Hydroelectric Station at Lock 12 near Ravenna.
The hydroelectric station, named after the wife of the co-founder of Berea College, is the result of a partnership between Appalachian Hydro Associates (which provided engineering and regulatory expertise), Berea College (which helped secure funding and invested some of its own funds), Jackson Energy Cooperative (which buys and distributes the electricity) and others.
Glenn Jennings, former president and CEO of Delta Natural Gas Company and a Berea College board of trustee member, said the newly operating hydroelectric station at Lock 12 fits very well with Berea College’s vision to find new ways to produce clean energy.
David Brown Kinloch, president of Appalachian Hydro Associates, said there were many days when he wondered if the project would ever happen. His son was one year old when it was launched; 16 years later, the plant is up and running.
“There are many, many firsts here,” explained Kinloch.
The hydroplant is the first in the nation to use variable speed technology (meaning it can operate even when the water is high) and the first to use polyset, a zinc silicate coating that is used on Navy aircraft carriers. The coating forms a chemical bond with the steel and creates an impermeable glass-like surface.
Also among the firsts, Berea College was the first college to support a hydroelectric station like this, but others are now following suit, including Notre Dame and the University of Pittsburg.
Kinloch also praised Jackson Energy. He said that the hydroplant wouldn’t have happened without them and when approached about the partnership, their response was, “What can we do to help?”
A picnic pavilion and park area was also built beside the lock and dam wall. The hydroplant is providing funding for the maintenance and upkeep of the park to the Estill County Fiscal Court.
With the support of the Kentucky River Authority, a fishing boat and canoe portage was also built beside the lock wall.
In addition, Kinloch praised the Kentucky Riverkeepers for being visionaries and pushing for the hydroplant and the portage. Both will help promote the Kentucky River Water Trail, which is now the 25th nationally recognized river trail.
Kinloch noted that there are thousands of small lock and dams across the nation with only 3 and 1/2 percent of them having operating hydroplants. He said that “everybody’s behind it,” both Democrats and Republicans, and “people will be coming from all over the US to see what is behind this.”
Laurie Roelofs, wife of Berea College President, described the station as a “really unique facility,” and “a natural extension of who we are” [as a college].
The hydrolectric project is upholding two of Berea College’s “great commitments,” according to Berea College President Lyle Roelofs. One is to demonstrate sustainable systems to the community, students and other investors, and the other is the commitment to employ a local and regional labor force in the construction of the project.
The power generated is being sold primarily to Jackson Energy at a discounted rate, helping keep local electric bills lower. The hydro-plant will power 1,200 homes in the West Irvine area and will produce half the amount of electricity used by Berea College annually, offsetting half of its carbon footprint.
Kinloch said, “We will eliminate about 11,000 tons of carbon dioxide in the air every year.”
Judge-executive Donnie Watson spoke of the recreational benefits that the hydroplant would bring to the county with the small park and the canoe portage, allowing better access for fishing.
Watson called it a “win-win” situation for everyone, helping to keep electric bills lower; in addition, the county and public schools will benefit from the property taxes generated by the project.
Following the dedication, the attending public was invited to tour the control building and watch the plant in operation.