Hydro powers Berea College

30 November 2021

Berea College in Kentucky, US, has said it is the first higher education institution in the nation to complete construction of a hydroelectric generating plant, located at Lock and Dam 12 on the Kentucky River near Ravenna, with the small-scale demonstration project producing on average about half of the electricity the College uses on an annual basis.

Named the Matilda Hamilton Fee Hydroelectric Station after the first “First Lady” and a co-founder of Berea College, the $11 million energy project, is the result of a collaboration with Appalachian Hydro Associates (AHA), which provided the engineering and regulatory expertise. Others involved in the project include the Kentucky River Authority, Jackson Energy Cooperative, Wright Concrete & Construction of Pikeville, Kleinschmidt Group, and Xylem.

Berea College arranged funding for the project, investing some of its own funds and also making use of federal and Kentucky New Markets tax credits and investment tax credits through assistance from key financial partners Community Ventures Corporation; Midwest Renewable Capital Fund; Community Impact Fund; U.S. Bank, NA; Chase Bank and Hardscuffle, Inc.

“This project has world-class engineering from AHA, Kleinschmidt and Xylem, and forward-thinking financial partners with the shared vision of a more sustainable future,” said Judge Wilson II, Berea College general counsel. “We are so thankful to everyone involved, including the Kentucky River Authority and our trustees, who have been very supportive from the beginning. Without these partnerships and support, this environmentally sustainable project could not have happened.”

Completed in late May, the plant will provide energy to hundreds of Jackson Energy Cooperative customers. In addition, the plant will create new learning opportunities for Berea College students while helping fulfill the college’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

The plant works by “shoe-horning” submersible turbine generators developed by Xylem into an abandoned navigational lock. The Lock 12 powerhouse contains five submersible generators, each producing 528kW, for a total plant size of 2.64MW. In addition, the demonstration project is the first hydroelectric plant in the nation to use variable speed technology.

“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. “At the same time, it displays to our students and everyone else both the College’s commitment to environmental sustainability and the viability of state-of-the-art renewable energy technologies.”

Photo: Tyler Rocquemore ’22

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