Colorado Experience: Hydro Power

Colorado Experience: Hydro Power


MAN: The cost of fuel was
outstripping any kind of profit that they could get
from their mine. WOMAN: At that time, the power
source — coal — bringing that in to power the power plant
was becoming impossible. MAN: Mine owners were constantly
losing money trying to bring new and more powerful sources
of energy to their mines. MAN: They had to do something
to save the mining industry in the Telluride area. MAN: Reaching these mines
was difficult enough, but then when you factor in the challenge
of bringing electricity to these mines, it becomes
a whole new ballgame. WOMAN: All these separate pieces
existed — the money existed, the idea existed,
the need existed — but what happened in 1891
was all of that came together. MAN: It’s hugely
historical for mankind.“Colorado Experience”
is made in partnership
with History Colorado.Inspiring generations to find
wonder and meaning in our past
and to engage in creating
a better Colorado.
HistoryColorado.org.With funding provided by
the University of Denver,
celebrating 150 years;the Denver Public Library;the Colorado Office of Film,
Television, and Media;
with additional funding
and support
from these fine organizations
and viewers like you.
Thank you.♪ ♪ ♪ MAN: Telluride was located in
a very remote part of Colorado on the slopes of the San Juan
Mountains, really one of the last sets of mountains for
miners to explore and develop. The San Juans were owned by the
Ute Indian tribe and it wasn’t until the Brunot Agreement of
1873 was that region opened up to mineral prospectors, and by
1875, prospectors were finding rich deposits of gold
and silver in the district. Telluride actually came about
in 1878 as a brand new town that usurped an earlier
community called San Miguel that lay about a mile
to the west, but Telluride was closer to the
mines, it was better laid out. DR. CONVERY: And Telluride
began to boom as a gold and silver producing town. ♪ Telluride was a loud, smelly, dirty place to be. It was a boomtown. People came there to make money, to sell their wares, either
as merchants or as bankers, but it was a very temporary
place to be. MAN: They essentially relied
on things like arc lighting and kerosene lamps for light,
which were extremely hazardous, I mean, a lot of fires
attributed to that. Very smelly type of
emissions from these. No sanitation. You had the society part of town
where if you were a family or a member of society,
you would have your home. And on the other side of town,
you would have the industrial area, where you keep horses and
you would receive raw materials, and the red light district. It was a very small
and isolated town. MAN: 1890 Telluride,
if you look at photos, you’ll see there’s nary
a tree in sight. So everything had been
cut for building, everything had been
cut for fuel. ERICA: So you didn’t have
a lot of that as a resource for energy for the big
mining operations, so what they used instead
was coal. Coal was a principle way
to power the machinery, the boilers you needed to
operate the drills underground. The saying in the
mining camps was, “it takes a mine
to make a mine.” You need capital in order to
buy your machinery and to hire your labor, and certainly to
generate the immense amount of energy it takes to literally
pry the stone, the granite, the quartz out of the heart of
the mountain and bring it out to process into
gold and silver. And this is before the railroad
came in 1890, so all of that coal had to be shipped in
via pack mule, wagon train, and on horse. RUDY: The landscape
was extremely rugged. The San Juan Mountains
were volcanically created. They were more prone to erosion
that created real steep-sided cliffy valleys and as a result,
transportation to get from a place like Telluride to
the mines was a bit difficult. You had to be part mountain goat
in order to be a miner in the San Juan Mountains and it
was said that most good miners in the San Juans were
mostly good mountaineers. Reaching these mines was
difficult enough, but then when you factor in the challenge
of bringing electricity to these mines, it becomes
a whole new ballgame. ERICA: It was an extreme expense
to ship all of this energy in and just as much of an expense, and time and energy
and manpower, to ship all of the ore that they
extracted out of the mines out of Telluride
to be processed. You can only really make money
on it after it’s been processed, so it was a very
lucrative business, but it was also a very
risky business. And in fact, by the early
1890’s, Telluride’s mines were on the verge of shutting
down because they simply didn’t have enough power sources
to electrify the mines, to provide for adequate
ventilation, to run the pumps which kept the
mines from filling up with water and unless somebody came forward
with a solution, then the mines were simply
going to have to shut down. ERICA: Lucien Lucius Nunn,
also known as L.L. Nunn, had a profound impact
on Telluride. He came to Telluride after
it was a well-known mining town and he came here to make his
money, to make his claim. RUDY: L.L. Nunn was typical of
many people that came west. He came to Colorado
first going to Leadville. He owned a tin bathtub and would
rent this to the grimy miners on the weekends
so they could clean up. So when he was right around
30 years old, he made his way to Telluride
and he was considered kind of an oddball
kind of person. He was short, he was five feet,
one inches tall. He admired Napoleon Bonaparte,
so he would take on these affectations of imitating
Napoleon poses. He did have a sense
of grandeur about him. He had this internal knowledge
that he would be very successful and very well-known,
so he always carried himself, even though he wasn’t wealthy,
he always dressed to the nines. He always had
a nice pocketwatch, the best quality suits. RUDY: But he was
an energetic young man. He astounded people by walking
from Telluride to Ouray and back to Telluride
in one day. He lived in a tent and he
existed on a diet of oatmeal. He wanted to be a Rockefeller. He wanted to be well-known
in American society. RUDY:
L.L. Nunn got into banking. He had a little bank called
the San Miguel Valley Bank. He had a loan with the
Gold King Mining Company. The Gold King’s main source of
power was coal, but your source of ore is not always steady and
in the case of the Gold King, they started to drop off
on their ore production, which meant they weren’t
keeping up with being able to pay their bills. He recognized that they
had to do something to save the mining industry
in the Telluride area and so he began to look for
alternative sources of power. He was, you know, brave enough
to be trying new technology, to look for some different
alternative in order to keep his mines
and mills up and running. DR. CONVERY: In the 1890’s,
America was electrifying, but we hadn’t settled on
a standard for electrification and really, there were two
rival electrical systems that were trying to become
the major system. DR. AMMERMAN: Thomas Edison
with his DC system, versus George Westinghouse
and his AC system. DC stands for Direct Current,
meaning there’s a uni-directional flow
of electrons. AC stands for
Alternating Current, the electrons are reversing
direction many times a second. RUDY: Direct Current works well
if you’re right at the location you need the power, and
Alternating Current works well if you need to send electrical
currents some distance. It became a public issue
because Thomas Edison wanted to sell DC power and he wanted
to make that his namesake. ALFRED: Thomas Edison’s folks
and Thomas Edison himself absolutely believed
in Direct Current and held most of the patents
on Direct Current. ERICA: When Nikola Tesla
first moved to the U.S., one of the jobs he had was
working with Thomas Edison, and Thomas Edison saw in
Nikola Tesla this innovative, creative spirit and this amazing
capacity to think of new ideas, but one of their areas they
clashed was Nikola Tesla was convinced that AC power
was a better source of power. There was nobody ever
like Nikola Tesla. Nikola Tesla was as
unique as they came. It felt like he was from
another time and space and he didn’t really belong
in the late 19th century. Probably the most gifted,
most talented, natural electrical engineer that
I’ve ever read about, certainly. He was Serbian born. When he was quite small, he’d
seen a picture of Niagara Falls and decided that he could
harness that power. He was a 19th century
individual, a Serbian-American born in this Victorian era whose
brain lived far in the future and he was so far out with his
theories and his experiments that he wasn’t
much of a success. People really couldn’t read this
guy, Nikola Tesla, because he would come up with experiments
about time travel and about communicating with other planets
and pocket-sized electrical generators that were portable
in a way that we really couldn’t get our minds around
until this century, but he was brilliant. He was absolutely brilliant
in thinking about ways to create better energy sources
for the future. At the time, Edison was saying
that this alternating current, this new current,
was the death current. Edison’s one contribution
to alternating current was the invention of
the electric chair, so he patented
the electric chair because, of course, AC was the death
current in his opinion, and invited the press
and others to watch this first execution
of a convict. Well, it didn’t
work out very well. The condemned wouldn’t die and
his hair was on fire and smoke was coming out of his eyes
and his ears and he was moaning and people ran from there
just absolutely mortified at this inhumane way of
trying to execute a prisoner. We use the term
electrocution now. There was no such
term back then. Edison found it convenient to
say that the condemned prisoner had been Westinghoused. But on the other hand,
Tesla would show people for Westinghouse Corporation, that alternating current
wasn’t necessarily deadly. He could wrap his body
with coils of wire that were connected to a rheostat and with
one hand, he would put his hand out towards the rheostat and
this big spark of electricity would jump several feet, and
in his other hand he would hold an Edison lightbulb that would
glow, but he didn’t die, so with low voltage,
it was perfectly safe. So everybody knew about
DC power, but what they did know about Edison was that
it was successful. They could use DC power,
but it couldn’t be transmitted over long distance, so L.L. Nunn
was researching different ways to use DC power and came across
Westinghouse’s technology and that was where
the spark occurred. ALFRED: George Westinghouse
was an entrepreneur, an inventor in his own right,
and obviously believed very much in the industry
and alternating current. DR. AMMERMAN: He made a habit
of surrounding himself with really talented people. DR. CONVERY: Westinghouse,
because he owned several of Tesla’s patents, would
consult with Tesla regularly. So Nunn serendipitously wired
the Westinghouse Corporation and got ahold of George Westinghouse
who liked the idea, so a meeting was set up where Nunn would
visit company headquarters in Pittsburgh and present his
idea to the Westinghouse board. When he did this,
the Westinghouse board thought it was a grand idea and they
supported it, so Nunn traveled back by train to Telluride,
thinking that everything was set but when he arrived in
Telluride, George Westinghouse had sent him a telegram saying
that the board reconsidered this proposal because
they figured the cost was going to be too high. Well, it was disappointing
to Nunn, but fortunately, the Gold King hit a new pocket
of ore and he took a train back and when he walked into the
boardroom, he had a big bag, it was 20 dollar gold pieces
in the amount of $50,000. And he plops this bag on
the table and says, “Gentlemen, this is what the Gold King
brings to the table. What will you do?” Westinghouse really saw this
would be an opportunity to offer positive proof
of the superiority, from an economic standpoint, of
his alternating current system. RUDY: It impressed George
Westinghouse so much that he gave $25,000
of his personal fortune, and by the close of the meeting,
the board was convinced and agreed to
pursue the project. DR. CONVERY:
And so in 1890, L.L. Nunn and
George Westinghouse began developing an electrical
generation system in the town of Ames,
just a little outside of Ophir, Colorado. ALFRED: George Westinghouse
worked with Tesla, although Nikola Tesla never
actually came to the Ames site, they did communicate by letter, and obviously Westinghouse
was using the polyphase patent of Nikola Tesla’s
alternating current, and so it’s picked up in three
different locations off your generator and it develops
a sign wave, a frequency that it operates at, and all the other
electricity on the transmission lines has to operate at that
same frequency with it. RUDY: Nunn decided to put the
Ames Power Plant at the southern end of the Ilium Valley because
there was a lot of ready water, I mean, there were waterfalls, there were other streams
that were rushing down. ALFRED: The production
at Ames Hydro starts really up in the watershed
above Trout Lake. There’s a high altitude
reservoir up there, Lake Hope, and that collects some water
for us as well and then it flows down into Trout Lake, which is
the larger storage reservoir. From there, at the time in 1891,
it went to box flumes, I mean, made out of wood
and on trestles. Of course there were a lot of
engineers in the area that had built trestles for all the
railway, so there was a lot of help and technology available
to build these box flumes to deliver water essentially two
and a half miles from Trout Lake down to a vertical steel pipe
that then ran down the side of the mountain, a thousand foot
of head, and went through the turbine and generated
electricity at Ames. ERICA:
When Ames was first built, it was a wooden structure. The generator and the technology
and all the wiring was built in a two-room
wooden shack. In constructing the Ames Power
Plant, Nunn had to rely on other people to build it and what
he was good at was recruiting young college students that
were in engineering programs throughout the United States. ERICA: And L.L. Nunn called them
“pinheads” and this name came about because these young
electrical engineering students came from all over the country,
and so in L.L. Nunn’s office, he had a giant map of the U.S.
and wherever a student would come from, he would
pin them on the map. RUDY: But they were
the ones that actually built the power plant under
the supervision of Westinghouse engineers and put the power
poles up and strung the lines, which were bare
copper wire lines. ALFRED: The construction of Ames
Hydro took a little bit more than one year to get the thing
built and in place. The transmission line obviously
was one of the larger challenges, to hang transmission
line from poles going across these mountains in this area
was no easy task, so it took some very stout people
and very dedicated people to run the transmission line
to Gold King Mine. The distance between
the Ames Power Plant and the Gold King Mine was
approximately three miles. DR. AMMERMAN:
So very rugged country, so to run transmission network
over that three miles certainly provided
some challenges. It wasn’t really believed
that the technology at Ames would work, that it would
be successful. They knew that separated,
the technology worked and was sound, but put together
in the actual environment with the water pushing
that Pelton wheel and using the generator, they weren’t entirely convinced
it was going to work. The technology was so new
that it actually was a party for the people of Telluride
in the area. They would come out knowing that
this technology was going to go online on a Sunday afternoon
and they’d come out with their picnic lunches and their buggies
and watch Ames, you know, generate the first alternating
current electricity, so it was quite an exciting
time for them. People on horseback were
convinced that they would be able to race the electricity
from the power plant up to the mine, be able to beat that,
the flow of electricity. Electricity travels at the speed
of light so it was certainly not something that they were
going to be able to achieve. At Ames, you had a large crowd
and a smaller crowd up at the Gold King Mine. Nunn, being somewhat
of a showman himself, announced what he was
going to do. He flipped the switch and sparks
flew from one switch to another and the electrical current was
sent up to the Gold King Mine. The electric induction motors
there come to life. It’s a successful project. Once Nunn’s Ames Power Plant
was running, Nunn quickly began
the Telluride Power Company and wanted to
extend this network throughout the Telluride area. ERICA: Locally and regionally,
it transformed Telluride life. It made Telluride into
the crowning jewel of western slope mining. One of the first inventions
they had to come up with was lightning protection. Go figure that lightning
at 10,000 feet could be rather damaging, but they struggled with it
and eventually came up with surge protectors that
would protect their unit and their equipment so they
could continue to generate. RUDY: You had freezing,
you had ice that would build up on the lines, you had
avalanches to contend with that could take out
the power poles. So they were dealing with that,
as well as just dealing with living in the mountains
and the wildlife. One of the better stories
was the bull snakes. They had trouble. The bull snakes kept swimming up
the tail race where the water came out of the power house
and going into the power house because it was warm in there. RUDY: Well, the pinheads didn’t
want the snakes in the power plant and decided the best way
to eliminate the snakes would be to put metal plates on
the floor, wire these to the generator so when a snake
wiggles between two plates, it’ll make a contact
and be electrocuted. And it worked beautifully. The snake would get in the water
and it would electrocute them, and the downside was it
would trip the generator off every time they did it as well,
so they got rid of that idea and went to screens instead. The impact of the Ames
Hydroelectric Power Plant was profound. It demonstrated that AC power
was safe, that it was reliable, and that it worked, and that it
could transmit electrical power long distances. ALFRED: Ames Hydro was
absolutely the first generated alternating current
transmitted, used, and sold for industrial purposes
in the world. RUDY: The monthly bill was about
$500, and prior to that, the monthly bill for coal
was $2,500. This was a huge savings and it
meant other mines in Telluride now wanted to use electrical
power, and by 1894, most of the big mines in
Telluride were electrified with alternating current power. Successes like at Ames
demonstrated that it could be safe, it could be successful,
and it could be cheap. It really changed the entire
landscape of the United States and beyond, and it really
did start the field of electrical engineering
power systems. ERICA: After L.L. Nunn’s success
here in Telluride, he moved back to Ithaca,
New York, to work with his brother at Cornell
University and endowed that Telluride Institute, that is
still financing scholarships and special projects for electrical
engineering students today. Introducing an easy and reliable
source of electrical power made gold mining
all the more affordable. It took out one of the expensive
factors of providing coal or providing timber
to generate electricity affordably and safely
in order to keep ore coming out of
the Gold King Mine. Cheap, abundant, and safe
electricity probably lowered the production costs of the gold and increased the profit margins
which benefited everybody. It allowed them to
bring in more miners, more packers to
bring things out. It increased the production to
a point where the mine prospered for long past the period where
other gold and silver mines were opened. After the experiment at Ames
proved successful, alternating current power and hydro power
exploded across the western United States and across
the eastern United States as well, with Niagara Falls
following closely behind. DR. AMMERMAN: Largely because
of what had happened at Ames, the Niagara commissioners
awarded the bid to Westinghouse, so at that point, Edison I think
was finally willing to recognize or acknowledge that the AC
system was superior and at that point, the AC/DC conflict
is said to have concluded. Word traveled fast. They got the word out
and the business began building these hydro projects
and these alternating current generating plants. It exploded in this country
and really across the world, where, alright, here’s
this new current, it’s safe, we can transmit it,
we can use it, it’s easy to make, and
we’ve been there ever since. So you have this perfect storm
of the person, the time period in American history where
this kind of adventure, this capital adventure
could take place. You had the natural environment
which precipitated that need, and you had the technology. ALFRED: Gold and silver
were driving everybody and everybody wanted
to get rich. It was the business interests
that really drove the technology. When they started seeing the
profitability of their mines disappearing with the cost
of bringing fuel in to continue their operation,
they were desperate. ERICA: Westinghouse,
being willing to take this risk, Tesla, leaving
the Edison Company, partnering up with Westinghouse, them coming together,
meeting with L.L. Nunn, and making this
power plant happen. ALFRED: By creating
this new current, it has absolutely changed
the course of human history. RUDY: Thanks to L.L. Nunn
and his Ames Power Plant, small mining communities
like Telluride were electrified way before
some of the major cities in this country. ALFRED: His legacy always will
be attached to being the one who helped bring alternating
current to mankind. The Ames Power Plant
is still in use today, it’s owned by Xcel Energy, producing 3.75 megawatts
of power currently. DR. CONVERY: Tesla’s alternating
current ultimately became the electricity that
powers everything. The television that
you’re watching right now is powered with
alternating current. It serves every function, so
much that we kind of forget it. It fades into the background
now how electrified we are. We live in a world in the 21st
century that these inventors — Tesla, Westinghouse, Nunn —
could only dream of, but the important thing is
they dreamed it and it allows us
to live here today. ♪

3 thoughts on “Colorado Experience: Hydro Power

  1. Edison, Tesla, and Westinghouse would be surprised at our long-distance transmission out in the Western part of the country which is now dominated by the large Direct Current connection between Sylmar California and Washington's hydro power. Up in the very high voltage ranges it turns out that DC is more cost effective for long distance transmission of energy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *