Here’s one company that won’t be sad at all if it rains on its ribbon cutting.
The folks at the Bowersock Mills and Power Company will be celebrating the opening of its $25 million hydroelectric power plant on the north bank of the Kansas River at 4 p.m. Friday.
The public is welcome at the event, and so is rain. The company opened the plant — located near the north end of the downtown Kansas River bridges — in late November. But it wasn’t until early April that the plant started producing any meaningful amount of electricity.
“There was just no flow in the river,” said Sarah Hill-Nelson, an owner of Lawrence-based Bowersock Mills and Power Company. “We were in the middle of this epic drought, but since then, we have had good continued rains.”
Hill-Nelson even can remember the exact day the plant had enough water flowing through it to really crank up the turbines: April 10, her birthday. (Man, I need her to teach me how she blows out her candles. Thanks to my wife’s stubbornness, it appears a birthday wish is the only way I’m going to get a lifetime supply of Doritos and a new Lazy Boy recliner.)
The project, in case you have forgotten, has more than tripled the amount of electricity the Bowersock Mills and Power Company can produce on the Kansas River. The new plant can produce 4.65 megawatts of electricity, while the company’s turn-of-the century hydroelectric plant on the south bank of the Kaw produces 2.35 megawatts.
All of the power produced by the plant is sold to the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities, which uses it to power homes in the metro area and receive credit for having a green energy source as part of its portfolio. I know the fact that all of the power is shipped to Kansas City has bummed out some people. They thought it would be cool if Lawrence residents could use the green power that is produced in Lawrence. But the fact the power is shipped to Kansas City is one of the greater parts of the project, in my opinion. If Lawrence residents buy the power, we’re just trading money that already is in the community. If Kansas City residents buy the power, that is new money coming to a truly Lawrence-based company — and thus into the Lawrence community — on a daily basis. That’s economic development.
But my favorite part of the project is it gives us all a reason to root for dreary, rainy, muddy days in Manhattan on a regular basis. Bowersock officials keep a close eye on the weather in the Manhattan area because when it rains there, it will mean increased flows through the power plant in another day or so.
There is good news on that front, Hill-Nelson said. (No, Willie the Wildcat hasn't permanently gotten stuck in a mud wrestling pit, as far as I know.) She said Tuttle Creek Reservoir near Manhattan recently reached conservation pool stage, meaning the lake’s water level is basically back up to normal. As more spring rains come, Tuttle Creek will be able to release more water into the Kaw, which will benefit the power plant. But more rain would be helpful for a variety of reasons. Both Perry and Milford, two other reservoirs that help feed the Kaw, are still several feet below normal levels. (The latest readings I have show Perry down by about 2 feet, and Milford down by about 4.5 feet. Of course, I may be off. You try carrying that measuring stick around.)
As for Friday’s event, it runs from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., and will include tours of the new plant. Kansas Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism Secretary Robin Jennison will make remarks about the project, and so will an official from the national hydroelectric power association. The Lawrence Chamber of Commerce is hosting the ribbon cutting, but Hill-Nelson said the event is open to both chamber and non-chamber members. She asks that members of the public who want to attend send an RSVP to RSVP@bowersockpower.com.