The old song lyric “Everything Old is New Again” may not always be true, but Lawrence’s Bowersock Mills and Power Co. certainly is a good example of an old-fashioned technology that suddenly finds itself back on the cutting edge.
The hydroelectric power generated by the Bowersock plant using a dam across the Kansas River fueled an industrial boom in Lawrence more than a century ago. Now, a growing demand for clean, renewable energy sources has made it feasible for the plant to look at plans to more than double its generating capacity.
For decades, the Bowersock plant located just east of City Hall seemed like little more than a piece of Lawrence history. It continued to generate electrical power, but it wasn’t exactly a “player” when it came to competing with major electrical utilities. Nonetheless, the family of J.D. Bowersock continued to keep it running, and their efforts and patience may pay off.
The Hill family, which now owns the plant, announced last week that it is seeking the necessary permits to build a new $13 million hydroelectric power plant on the north bank of the Kansas River. The four-story structure would utilize the existing dam across the river and house three large turbines that would allow the company to generate about 7 megawatts of power per day, enough to provide electricity to about 6,000 homes.
Several recent developments have made conditions favorable for the expansion. City officials have agreed to repair the Bowersock Dam and extend its maintenance agreement until 2077 because the dam is essential to maintaining the needed water level upstream for the city’s Kaw Water Treatment Plant. Another piece of the puzzle is the new state requirement that investor-owned utilities generate at least 20 percent of their power from renewable energy sources. Because those companies can satisfy that requirement by buying renewable power from other companies, Bowersock should have a ready market for as much electricity as it can produce.
Bowersock officials must jump through a number of regulatory hoops before they can move forward with their plans. Barring any unforeseen problems, this project should have the wholehearted support of city officials and the rest of the community.
There’s just something cool about this local effort to expand a clean, renewable energy source. The same source of power used by Lawrence’s founders now will serve the city again.
Instead of being a throwback, Bowersock’s hydroelectric power is now the latest thing. Harnessing the power of the Kansas River finally is getting a little respect.