Ames Hydro

The Ames Hydro Power Plant could arguably be considered the grandfather of hydroelectric plants. The plant is located near Ophir, Colorado and was originally built to supply power to the stamp mill at the Gold King Mine. Prior to the construction of this hydroelectric plant, the Gold King Mine was in danger of shut down because of a lack of timber fuel. Ames was built to generate hydroelectric power from the San Miguel River.

Ames was originally constructed in 1891 and the current plant was built in 1906. Its construction occurred during a crucial moment of electrical history which is now known as “The War of the Currents.” Westinghouse and Nikola Tesla were battling with Thomas Edison to determine whether alternating current (AC) or direct current (DC) would become the common current used throughout the country. AC was discovered to be effective when it was transmitted over a distance of two miles with a loss of less than 5%. This is because AC reverses direction at regular intervals, and transformers can in increase or decrease the voltage as needed.

By comparison, DC does not travel as well over long distances, and it cannot make use of transformers. The success of Ames led to a larger plant being built at Niagara Falls, New York. As a result, AC current is the current used today in homes and businesses. Because of its significance, Ames is on the list of Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Milestones. The success of the plant also prompted the construction of the first engineering school in the country. Located in Telluride, Colorado, the school made many innovations in electricity generation and lightning protection.

Today, the Ames Hydro Power Plant is still in operation. Water reservoirs for the plant are at Trout Lake and Lake Hope. The plant’s unit has a capability today of generating 3.75 MW. The Western Colorado Power Company owns the original power house that was constructed in 1905. The power house has an output of 2400 volts and 1082 amperes. Local schools and colleges regularly tour the plant, as do historians and historical groups.

Although this type of power generation is extremely environmentally friendly, as the plant is powered by water and creates no air, land, or water emissions, power plants of this age frequently utilized asbestos in their construction. Although an effective insulator against heat, fire and electricity, this material also put all employees of these facilities in danger because its fibers can become damaged and fragment into small particles that can embed in the tissue surrounding organs. These embedded fibers eventually lead to the development of a lethal cancer, mesothelioma, which has no known cure and gives patients a poor prognosis.