Most of the 14 locks and dams along the Kentucky River have been abandoned. But David Brown Kinloch has found a use for one of them. He’s president of Appalachian Hydro Associates and he’s built the state’s first small-scale hydro electric plant in 90 years.
“It’s the smaller sites like the one we just worked at that has the real potential to add a lot of new hydroelectric capacity to help with climate change in the future,” Brown Kinloch said.
The 2.64 megawatt plant is located at near Ravenna in Estill County and began generating electricity for Berea College in May. The turbines provide enough electricity to power about 1,200 homes and will supply about half of the college’s energy needs on an annual basis.
“The hydroelectric generating plant shows that local green initiatives like this one can be financially feasible and create reliable sources of income and acceptable rates of return on investment,” said Berea College President Lyle Roelofs in a statement.
The plant cost $11 million and has an expected lifespan of more than 50 years. The project took about 16 years to complete, but only three of those years were spent on construction, while 7 were spent getting a federal license for the project, he said.
It’s also the first new small hydro plant to use variable speed technology, which allows the turbines to generate about 10 to 15% more power than traditional hydropower, Brown Kinloch said.
Hydro is more site specific and more expensive to build than solar or wind, but it lasts a long time and puts out energy more consistently than those other renewable sources, Brown Kinloch said.
“Hydroelectric alone is not going to get us where we need to be but it’s a very important piece of the puzzle in dealing with climate change,” Brown Kinloch said.
Brown Kinloch doesn’t advocate for building any new dams for hydro, but estimates there are around 45 economically viable sites around Kentucky that could be repurposed for hydropower.