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Laura Seitz, KSL

Restoration of Utah County historic site to provide green power to thousands of households

By Jasen Lee, KSL | Posted - Sep. 16, 2018 at 7:04 p.m.


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OREM — The site of one of the oldest electric plants in the West is generating a new buzz as officials mark the completion of the new Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant at the mouth of Provo Canyon.

The $42 million facility is a partnership with the Bureau of Reclamation, the Department of the Interior and the Central Utah Water Conservancy District and took nearly two years to complete next to the original power plant that first served the area in 1904.

Because hydropower is based on the movement of water, the facility will emit virtually no pollutants.

K.C. Shaw, chief Engineer of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, left, Daryl Devey, Central Utah Project manager, and Richard Tullis, assistant general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, walk outside the new Olmsted Hydropower plant in Orem on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo: Laura Seitz, KSL)

"This plant will save approximately seven to eight truckloads of coal every day," according to Daryl Devey, of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. "There are no carbon emissions. It's huge for the environment to be able to have hydropower. It was really the first renewable (energy source)."

The facility will officially be dedicated with public tours on Wednesday, though it actually began operation in July, providing electricity to customers across the central Utah region, explained K.C. Shaw, chief engineer for the Central Utah Water Conservancy District. It delivers power to customers in Provo, Lehi, Kaysville, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and memberts of the Utah Municipal Power Authority.

The Olmsted plant is a “run of the river” plant, meaning that power production is dependent upon water demands from downstream users and is not changed due to power demands, he said. The power is owned by the federal government and sold through an entity called the Western Area Power Authority, he said.

"Over a year's time, it would (power) about 3,000 homes," he said. The project also allows the water district to access water rights to provide an additional source of water to residents and businesses along the Wasatch Front, he added.

"As long as we continue to generate power, we can then continue to use those water rights," Shaw said. More than 1.25 million people benefit from those water rights in Salt Lake, Utah and Wasatch counties, said Richard Tullis, assistant general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District.

The Olmsted hydro plant is the fourth largest in the state, he noted, making it an important asset to the area.

Using computer-programmed turbines, the new plant will be far more effective than its century-old predecessor, Shaw said.

An employee watches video of the intake of the water that supplies the new Olmsted Hydropower plant in Orem on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo: Laura Seitz, KSL)

"The old power plant generated about the same amount of power using four turbines," he explained. "This will generate the same amount of power using two turbines. So (it's) twice as efficient."

The original Olmsted Plant was built in 1904 at the mouth of Provo Canyon and was home to one of two original electrical engineering training programs in the United States, Devey said. The school, called the Telluride Institute, included living quarters, classrooms, a library and a kitchen, he said.

Students were divided into three groups with the first-year students, second-year pupils and the third-year students.

"They lived in the top two floors (of the original living quarters)," Devey said.

He said the plant was developed by Lucien Nunn, who managed the Gold King Mine near Telluride, Colorado, as a way to generate cheap, reliable electricity to mines and mills. He convinced George Westinghouse to develop an alternating current power system allowing Nunn and the Telluride Power Company to begin hydroelectric power generation in Provo Canyon in 1897, Devey said.

"One of Nunn's passions was education," he said. "That's why he built all this so he could train people on the job, educate them and have them come and work for him."

Richard Tullis, assistant general manager of the Central Utah Water Conservancy District, and K.C. Shaw, the district's chief engineer, stand next to a turbine at the new Olmsted Hydropower plant in Orem on Wednesday, Sept. 12, 2018. (Photo: Laura Seitz, KSL)

By the end of three years, students were awarded a degree in electrical engineering, he said. The Telluride Institute is still in existence today at Cornell University, he said.

Nunn’s Station — located at what is now called Nunns Park in Provo Canyon –generated alternating current power that was transmitted over 32 miles to the mining town of Mercur, Devey said. It was the first high-voltage, long-distance, alternating current power transmission system in the world at the time, he said.

Because Nunn’s system was so successful, the demand for power increased quickly, prompting Nunn to move his power station to the mouth of Provo Canyon to take advantage of the increased water drop for greater pressure on the turbines, Shaw said.

The plant was eventually named in honor of Fay Devaux Olmsted, an engineer from Michigan who designed the wooden flume from the Provo River diversion to the new location as well as the generating station, Devey said.

The historic powerhouse, which is on the national registry of historic places, is being preserved and will eventually become a museum on the property, he said. Several movies and television series have been filmed at the historic Olmsted campus, including "Halloween 5," "The Stand," "War Pigs," and "Granite Flats," Shaw noted.

Shaw added that the new facilities include a relined 102-inch pipeline, a rock tunnel lined with an 84-inch steel pipeline, a cliff spillway structure, surge tank, 84-inch buried penstock, a powerhouse with all hydroelectric equipment and connection to the electrical grid that will be housed in new 8,200-square-foot building.

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Jasen Lee

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