Old standby

An energy source that drove Lawrence’s early development is getting a new lease on life.

Plans to expand a clean source of energy that has been used in Lawrence for more than a century appear to be back on track.

Having cleared various financial and licensing hurdles, the owners of Bowersock Mills & Power Co. say construction of a new power plant on the north bank of the Kansas River could begin soon. The plant will use the existing dam across the Kansas River near downtown and operate in tandem with the historical Bowersock plant on the south bank of the river.

Selling bonds to finance the project had posed a challenge, but when the Securities and Exchange Commission ruled that those bonds could be sold to qualified individual investors, Bowersock officials were able to market the bonds to regional investors more familiar with the project. The bond deal to finance the $25 million project was closed on schedule earlier this month.

The expansion of hydroelectric power in the city is both practical and symbolic. Concern about the cost and availability of oil has prompted new interest in renewable energy sources. Wind and hydroelectric power were mainstays for early settlers in Kansas, and returning to those sources to supplement power production in the state makes sense.

City leaders also have noted that having a new hydroelectric power plant signals Lawrence’s interest in becoming a player in the green energy market. The plant is projected to produce enough power to serve about 5,400 homes. That isn’t a lot, but, as City Commissioner Aron Cromwell noted, on a per capita basis, it’s more renewable energy than is produced by any community in California. The new plant also demonstrates the possibilities for expanded use of hydroelectric power. It’s clean energy that doesn’t depend on the sun shining or the wind blowing; it’s available whenever the river is flowing.

To solidify their financial plan, Bowersock officials locked in a 25-year deal to sell all of the power generated by both of their plants to the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, which will distribute it in Wyandotte County. It’s disappointing, in a way, to see this natural resource leaving Lawrence, but from an economic development standpoint, the exported energy will be pumping a lot of new dollars into the Lawrence economy.

Many efforts are focused on new ways to generate the power America needs, but it’s also refreshing to see a company like Bowersock capitalizing on one of the old standbys.