LJWorld Green

Bowersock leaders planning to build a new hydro-electric power plant

Electrical output would more than double

July 17, 2009


Steven Hill, looks out on the Bowersock Dam that spans the Kansas River, the dam has provided power for Westar and other utilities for years and now is selling green tags to locals and soon Hill hopes to be selling the idea of a new $12 Million dollar hydroelectric plant on the north side.

Steven Hill, looks out on the Bowersock Dam that spans the Kansas River, the dam has provided power for Westar and other utilities for years and now is selling green tags to locals and soon Hill hopes to be selling the idea of a new $12 Million dollar hydroelectric plant on the north side.

Bowerstock dam looking to expand

Bowersock officials are seeking approval for a $13 million expansion project for the dam. Enlarge video

A cleaner power

Hydropower is one of the world's oldest forms of generating electricity, but it is getting new interest today as companies look for cleaner ways of doing business. The Bowersock Mills and Power Company along the Kansas River is leading a clean energy effort in Lawrence.

Leaders with the Bowersock Mills and Power Company have filed for a federal permit to build a new $13 million hydro-electric power plant on the north bank of the Kansas River.

The company will hold a public meeting next month as part of its efforts to win a key permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

“There’s no question that we’re further along than we’ve ever been on this project,” said Bowersock President Stephen Hill, who has been publicly discussing the possibility of expanding Bowersock’s operations since 2007. “We’re optimistic. We think it is probably a go. We should know in the next three to six months.”

Bowersock has hired a firm to design a new four-story building that would sit at the north end of the dam between the river and the levee. Hill plans to unveil the design at next month’s meeting, which is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Aug. 13 at the Union Pacific Depot in North Lawrence.

The building will house three large turbines that will more than double the amount of electricity the company can produce out of its existing plant, which is just behind City Hall on the south bank of the Kansas River.

The company will continue to operate the south bank plant, which was built in the late 1800s and was used by Hill’s great-grandfather to fuel an industrial boom in Lawrence. With both plants, the company will be able to produce nearly 7 megawatts of power per day.

Or another way to look at it is that the new plant, combined with the old one, would allow the company to generate enough electricity to power about 6,000 homes, up from about 2,000 homes that the company can provide for currently.

Hill credits a pair of political victories as key reasons why the plant project has momentum. When Gov. Mark Parkinson signed off on a bill allowing for a new 895-megawatt coal burning power plant in western Kansas, he also insisted on a new energy bill that requires investor-owned utilities in the state to generate at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

That legislation should produce a new list of potential buyers of Bowersock energy, as utility companies ranging from Westar to small rural cooperatives look for renewable energy sources.

“We always dreamed and hoped that someday this would be possible because there is a lot of unused water that comes down the river,” Hill said. “But until recently, it never looked feasible.”

City commissioners delivered the other major development last week. Commissioners unanimously agreed to extend the city’s maintenance agreement on the dam until 2077. Bowersock continues to own the dam, but the city has historically maintained it. The city has done the maintenance, in large part, because the dam is critical in keeping the water levels in the river high enough for the city’s Kaw Water Treatment Plant to operate properly.

Commissioners earlier this month also tentatively agreed to move ahead on an approximately $2 million project to make major repairs to the dam, which was built in the 1870s.

City Commissioner Aron Cromwell said he thinks a new hydroelectric plant could help Lawrence reduce its carbon footprint, and also help the city receive national attention as a green community that is friendly to green businesses.

“One of the things we have failed to do is really tout our own greenness,” Cromwell said. “This will be a great opportunity for us to say ‘this is the future, these are green jobs.’ It will be a real opportunity for us to tout ourselves as the green community we are.”

Hill said the plant will be designed to accommodate group tours. And with a design that will have it stand slightly taller than the Kansas River levee, it will be visible to thousands of cars per day that go over the Kansas River bridges.

“It will be a showcase project, we hope,” said Hill, who said the design may include an area for recreational canoeists to access the river.

The city also may become a direct buyer of electricity from the plant. City commissioners have expressed an interest in purchasing enough electricity from the plant to power the city’s street light system.

In addition to a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the project will need permits from the Corps of Engineers, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and several other agencies, Hill said.

Hill said the project also will be applying for federal stimulus money, although he stopped short of saying the stimulus money was a necessity for the project to move forward.

“That is the $64,000 question: Whether we can get financing without the stimulus,” Hill said. “There is stimulus money available. We qualify for it, but many people are standing in line.”


Leslie Swearingen 7 years ago

This is something we can all look forward to. Kudo's to Bowersock Mills and Power Company.

LogicMan 7 years ago

Excellent news. I trust there is enough water flow for both plants, including during dry times (usually when it is hot too, so the AC/electric demand is the highest).

Grump 7 years ago

Yes, excellent news. I do hope they include a recreational access point.

blindrabbit 7 years ago

Great news; but will they need to build a fish ladder for the highly valuable migratory carp??

50YearResident 7 years ago

The can afford to build this new power plant with the money the Bowersock Co. saved by The City of Lawrence taking over the maintaince cost of replacing the dam. Great deal for Bowersock!

50YearResident 7 years ago

It was Bowersock's responsibility up until the City wanted to build City Hall on the Bowersock 100 year leased land. The city's take over of maintainance is a more recent part of the deal to buy out the lease on part of the land for city hall. Correct me if I am wrong. That deal was very expensive for Lawrence taxpayers.

blindrabbit 7 years ago

50year, just another bitching about someone trying to do good for the city. One of the main reasons Lawrence cannot make progress is the whining of individuals who are afraid someone is going to make a buck. That's the reason Harris has about given-up on the East Side project, and why Fritzel has backed-off of the Library/Post Office/Hotel project. Some of the old-time downtown business owners laid the foundation for their own eventual demise years ago by opposing everything that came along.

Bladerunner 7 years ago

I wonder how long it will take to generate 13 million bucks worth of electricity.....

Keith 7 years ago

"50year, just another bitching about someone trying to do good for the city. "

Not bitching about someone trying to do good for the city, just bitching about so-called capitalists that can't survive without welfare.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

“There’s no question that we’re further along than we’ve ever been on this project,” said Bowersock President Stephen Hill, who has been publicly discussing the possibility of expanding Bowersock’s operations since 2007.

If it's been so public, why hasn't it been reported in the JW? If I just missed it, could someone provide a link to this coverage?

While I think this is potentially a very good idea, will public access via the trail under the bridge between the east and west sections of the levee be maintained?

And if this becomes a profitable venture, I would expect that there will be a return on investment commensurate with public expenditures.

mdrndgtl 7 years ago

Will the new Bowersock plant blend?

Tim Quest 7 years ago

+1 mdrndgtl.

I'm curious to know what the upgrades to the dam will entail. I'm no expert, obviously, but I'd think that if you're going to spend all that money on a shiny new power plant, you'd want to have a dam that relies on something more than plywood sheets.

KS 7 years ago

FarneyMac - I tend to agree and I confess I am no engineer, but why can't other dams be built upstream, downstream to serve other communities? Seems to me that the water is going to run by here everyday regardless. I know it doesn't generate a whole bunch, but gosh, cheaper than coal, safer than nuclear? Let's capture the energy.

devobrun 7 years ago


Bowersock (BS) will be reimbursed about 1.9 pennies per kilowatt-hour.

Note to Chad Lawhorn: A megawatt (Mw) is a rate of energy production. Saying 7 Mw per day is like saying 55 miles per hour per day. It is hoped that 7 Mw is produced in a day, a month, and a year. That is, it is hoped that the rate of energy production is a continuous 7 Mw.

Ahem, back to Bowersock's revenue stream. In one year, BS will receive, gather and sell 7000 kilowatts times 24 hours per day times 365 days per year times .019 dollars per kilowatt-hour if they produce max power for the entire year. They won't operate full capacity at all times, but that is what I'm assuming.

This is $1,165,000. This is about 9% of cost ($13 million).

Note to those who think that 1.9 cents per KW-hr is low: You might pay 8 cents per kw-hr, but Westar buys the energy for much less. Westar must manage the grid, build and maintain distribution systems, and deal with deadbeats.

You can't run this business on 9% ROI. The debt service will eat up the investment. Employees must be paid. Maintenance will occur. Floods will happen and reduce generation to nill. This is a risk that only the government will like.

Steven Hill knows this. Subsidies, stimulus money, green kickbacks, maintenance contracts with the city, and all kinds of income not related to energy production must in place for this project to proceed.

A rebuilt dam will allow the north side to be closed down to foot traffic. Save lives. Maybe get an emergency rescue subsidy from Dept of Transportation.

Gotta look for as many angles as possible, because this facility cannot compete with coal on a $ basis. Not even close. The Hill family are good people. I hope this works.

I'm skeptical.

malehrman 7 years ago

I always thought the dam gave Lawrence water rights over other towns upstream and that without the dam, Lawrence would have to rely on those upstream for access to water, which would likely raise the rates here quite a bit.

I would guess that the bridge over the river would have problems if the dam broke and would of course have to be rebuilt as well should that happen.

Seems like a pretty good idea for the city to maintain the dam and for Bowersock to increase generation capacity.

devobrun 7 years ago

The south side of the dam is built on a solid rock base. The engineering of that part is good and the dam on the south is sound.

The north side of the dam is not built on solid rock. The rock underneath the north side rolls off and is too deep.

The north side is supported by huge logs that were driven into the soil below the dam. It is this part that the engineers worry about, and will be replaced. When that happens, the entire dam dam be operated at a higher head and with more turbines. Thus, the 3X production increase.

Question to Hanging Lawhorn: Isn't 6000 houses versus 2000 houses a 3x factor? That is, wouldn't the dam provide 3 times the power that it does today?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

Meaning that he knows Hill personally, so he's willing to overlook his normal disdain for anything besides coal/petroleum/nuclear in not condemning this project outright.

Janet Lowther 7 years ago

I wonder if there will be efforts to construct other "Flow of Stream" hydro stations. If they ran the discharge tubes from the major lakes through turbines, there would be a fair bit of power recovered.

Some years ago, there was a proposal to build a power house at the discharge tube of Clinton Lake, but the project died when the Corps of Engineers demanded payment for the discharge water - water they were going to discharge anyway.

blindrabbit 7 years ago

I think the Clinton Dam project died for one of two reasons:

  1. Too many Repubs thought the Lake was named after Bill Clinton. Hard to believe, but many really thought so. They did not want to give him any credit. Scouts honor!!!

  2. The Army Corps was concerned that with a dam failure all of the trash depositers/scatterers at the spillway would be washed away. Good riddance to me.

devobrun 7 years ago

OK, bozo, I condemn this project outright. It is only cost effective if there are massive subsidies for energy production and water storage.

There will be subsidies and the project will be part of a bunch of green publicity for Lawrence. It will be green energy. It will be constructed in a green way, using green concrete and green techniques throughout.

It still won't be a good engineering project, but that doesn't matter anymore. Decisions are made today on the basis of appearance, implication, image, and other horse squeeze. A good businessman knows that he must keep up with the times, so the money will be made off the tax payers and the green community. Pay up green suckers.

ice: childish

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"It is only cost effective if there are massive subsidies for energy production"

That's true of every energy production method in use, especially if you include externalized (as in ignoring that which is inconvenient to acknowledge) costs.

somebodynew 7 years ago

@ice - you know some people (not you) can overlook how someone dresses in order to hear the message.

Of course with your moniker you might be excused for being under the influence too long.

jobohe 7 years ago

What is the long-term cost of Lawrence's agreement to maintain the dam?

The story does not mention that after the construction of the dam over 130 years ago no salmon have spawned in the Kansas River.

blindrabbit 7 years ago

jobohe: No salmon, but carp have done well! They have thrived despite the mercury, atrazine, etc.

devobrun 7 years ago

bozo: something must be cost effective, doncha think?

Something must pay back more than it costs. Otherwise we wouldn't bother with energy at all.

Yet the entire western culture of production is based upon energy. Everything from this message to movies, military, child care facilities with air conditioning to .....everything is run on energy. So what works bozo? You tell me, since my PhD in electrical engineering seems useless in your world.

What works? What delivers more energy than it takes to gather it? Coal maybe?

Gimme some science bozo. Gimme some engineering, bozo. Gimme something besides a pencil-neck excuse.

blakus 7 years ago

Keep buying that coal Kansas. We here in Wyoming supply much of the coal in the U.S. but are agressively building wind farms out the wazoo to lessen our own coal usage. Wahoo!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 7 years ago

"Something must pay back more than it costs. Otherwise we wouldn't bother with energy at all."

But when the real costs aren't honestly acknowledged, that leads to a dishonest comparison of our various energy choices.

"You tell me, since my PhD in electrical engineering seems useless in your world."

Too bad your ideological agenda takes precedent over engineering bona fides .

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

Climate 2030: A National Blueprint for a Clean Energy Economy

New UCS Analysis Download: Climate 2030 Blueprint Executive Summary (2009) | Climate 2030 Blueprint Report (2009)

Reducing oil dependence. Strengthening energy security. Creating jobs. Tackling global warming. Addressing air pollution. Improving our health. The United States has many reasons to make the transition to a clean energy economy. What we need is a comprehensive set of smart policies to jump-start this transition without delay and maximize the benefits to our environment and economy. Climate 2030: A National Blueprint for a Clean Energy Economy (“the Blueprint”) answers that need.

Cont’t http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/big_picture_solutions/climate-2030-blueprint.html

================================ Hydro Exploiting the movement of water to generate electricity, known as hydroelectric power, is the largest source of renewable power in the United States and worldwide. If done correctly, hydropower can be a sustainable and nonpolluting power source that can help decrease our dependence on fossil fuels and reduce the threat of global warming. View the faces working in and supporting the hydroelectric industry or learn more about how hydroelectric energy works. http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/technology_and_impacts/energy_technologies/how-hydroelectric-energy.html

================================= Wind Harnessing the wind is one of the cleanest, most sustainable ways to generate electricity. Wind power is also one of the most abundant and increasingly cost-competitive energy resources, making it a viable alternative to the fossil fuels that harm our health and threaten the environment. View the faces working in and supporting the wind industry or learn more about how wind energy works.

================================= Geothermal Heat from the earth can be used as an energy source in many ways, from large and complex power stations to small and relatively simple pumping systems. This heat energy, known as geothermal energy, can be found almost anywhere, and tapping into it is an affordable and sustainable solution. View the faces working in and supporting the geothermal industry or learn more about how geothermal energy works. =================================== Solar Solar energy—power from the sun—is free, inexhaustible, and can be used to directly generate heat, lighting, and electricity. All the energy stored in Earth's reserves of coal, oil, and natural gas is matched by the energy from just 20 days of sunshine. Solar photovoltaic technology is one of the fastest growing energy sources worldwide. View the faces working in and supporting the solar industry or learn more about how solar energy works.

==================================== Faces of Clean Energy http://www.ucsusa.org/clean_energy/faces/faces.html

Richard Heckler 7 years ago

I'm ready to buy water,wind and solar power ASAP. It's all locally produced and far far far less polluting. Also local sources such as wind,solar and hydro should provide a much quicker pay back than coal and nukes could ever hope to accomplish.

Fugu 7 years ago

I'm sick of hearing dam hydroelectric plants touted as being "green" energy. The immediate environmental implications of damming a river are far more severe than building a coal plant with equal output. Habitat alteration, blocking of fish migration, changing of river pulse cycles are just a few things...China likes to think of Three Gorges as being "green", but the truth is, it is not even close. There should be more to "green" energy than just greenhouse gas emissions and whatever is renewable.

Of course, this dam is already here and has been for a while, so go for it.

Richard Heckler 7 years ago


Hydroelectric facilities that meet certain standards to minimize their effect on rivers, fish, and wildlife can now seek recognition as low impact under a voluntary certification program developed by the Low Impact Hydropower Institute (LIHI). Criteria standards are based on the most recent and stringent mitigation measures recommended for the dam by state and federal agencies.

To be certified, a facility must adequately protect or mitigate its impacts in the following areas: river flows, water quality, fish passage and protection, watershed protection, threatened and endangered species protection, cultural resource protection, and recreation.

The incentive for certification is the ability to market a more sustainable energy source to consumers, especially those participating in voluntary green power programs. In addition,

Pennsylvania requires hydroelectric projects to be LIHI certified in order to be eligible to count towards the state's renewable electricity standard. Currently, more than twenty hydropower facilities have been LIHI certified.


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