Cube Celebrates Narrows Dam’s 100th Birthday

Cube Celebrates Narrows Dam’s 100th Birthday

Cube Celebrates Narrows Dam’s 100th Birthday

Officials of Cube Hydro Partners surprised Kristina M. Johnson,outgoing chief executive officer of Cube, with a plaque declaring the High Rock Power House to be named in her honor. Frenchman Thomas Lefebvre, a Cube board member and investor, awarded Johnson the plaque at a celebration Thursday at the Narrows Dam.

This image shows a view of the Narrows Dam powerhouse under construction in Badin.

This image shows a view of the Narrows Dam powerhouse under construction in Badin.

As impressive as the structure of the Narrows Dam and its hydroelectric powerhouse is, the amazing feat rests with how long it took to build — only two years — and its future in the pursuit of renewable energy.

“We couldn’t build this plant today in two years,” John Collins, the new chief executive officer of Cube Hydro, said of the Narrows.

Cube Hydro leaders and scores of local dignitaries, stakeholders and political representatives were in Badin Thursday to celebrate an illustrative century of the dam. Following a presentation of company speakers at the Narrows power plant, Cube sponsored a luncheon on the grounds of its Badin offices in recognition of the birthday.

“One hundred years is a long time, but when it comes to hydroelectricity, it’s only in its adulthood,” added Collins, referring to what is believed to be a promising future.

As the demand for electricity grows along with a quest for more renewable, carbon-free energy sources, the likely need for hydropower also increases to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and advance toward more clean, renewable energy sources.

Collins made it clear Cube’s interest in the region’s assets remain a priority.

“We are very much invested in North Carolina and we’ll continue to invest in North Carolina,” he said. “We want to be a part of North Carolina’s economic development.”

Kristina Johnson, outgoing CEO of Cube and the impending chancellor of the State University of New York, continued to champion hydropower as the way of the future.

“This will definitely be here in 100 years. We won’t be, but it will be,” she said.

Johnson said hydropower should be recognized as another component of renewable energy sources like wind and solar energy. In fact, she said each one complements the other in a pursuit of cleaner energy. She suggested all of the renewable energy sources should be integrated for a healthy balance.

“We need to take advantage of what’s not being utilized,” Johnson said. “We need to be a throwback [to] when it was a sin to waste.”

She pointed out that dams already store water supplies, which is used for numerous other resources including recreation. Hydropowered electricity is simply another use.

According to Cube, hydropower produced 62 percent of total U.S. renewable electricity generation in 2010. The National Hydropower Association estimates the U.S. can double its hydroelectric power by 2030 in an environmentally safe and sound manner.

While Johnson does not predict Cube’s four hydroelectric facilities along the Yadkin will expand, she said the presence of those facilities will attract other industries that could benefit the region economically. New industries, like aero farming (indoor farming without sun and soil in a fully controlled environment), tend to gravitate toward areas where there’s clean energy resources and inexpensive land, she said.

Recently, there has been growing bipartisan support amid Congressional efforts to ensure favorable legislation for hydropower, which maintains a strong presence in North Carolina including Cube’s projects along the Yadkin River previously purchased from Alcoa.

Also on Thursday, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, NC-08, a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee’s Energy Subcommittee, spoke on the House floor urging support of a proposed bill that calls for the responsible tapping into energy resources and the rollback of federal regulations on conduit hydropower projects.

“Hydropower remains one of the most efficient and affordable sources of electricity, as well as one of the largest sources of renewable electricity in America,” Hudson said.

“In North Carolina alone, it generates enough electricity to power 350,000 homes each year,” he continued. “The opportunity is tremendous. Picture a tiny turbine placed in an existing man-made pipe that transports water from a water treatment plant. We can produce clean electric power inside these types of man-made conduits.

“There are over 1.2 million miles of water supply mains in the United States, creating literally thousands of energy-recovery hydropower generation opportunities. This technology is readily available and environmentally-friendly, but federal regulations have discouraged and stifled development.”

Critics contend hydropower has environmental consequences, primarily due to the damming of water, changed water flow and added construction of infrastructure.

Opponents argue hydroelectric power plants affect the health of fish. Fish habitats are shaped by physical factors such as water level, water velocity and shelter opportunities and access to food.

Hydroelectric power plants are expensive to build, though require fewer workers and maintenance costs.

Hydropower is also susceptible to drought conditions.

Electricity generation and energy prices are directly related to how much water is available.

History of Narrows Dam

Hydroelectric facilities first appeared in the U.S. in the early 1890s in New England.

Egbert B.C. Hambley, an English mining engineer, first explored the idea of harnessing the industrial potential of the Yadkin River basin.

Hambley and partner George Whitney, of Pittsburgh, proceeded to spearhead the construction of a dam near Palmerville. However, the effort ended in 1907, after the pair declared bankruptcy.

L’Aluminum Francaise purchased the holdings in 1912. After studying the topography and the flow of the river, French engineers abandoned the previous dam’s location for the “Narrows” of the Yadkin, about four miles downstream, in favor of a higher dam with greater generation capacity.

A town was established and named after the founder, president and engineer Adrien Badin.

With the onset of World War I in 1914, France quit foreign investing and called its reservists home. The project was subsequently abandoned.

Near the end of 1915, Arthur Vining Davis and Andrew Mellon bought the French holdings. They concluded the war would increase the demand for aluminum, leading to the creation of a smelter by the Aluminum Company of America (Alcoa) and its subsidiary, Tallassee Power Company.

They resurrected the building of the dam and the town of Badin, finishing what the French had started.

What began as shanties and temporary structures for workers evolved into a full-fledged town, a community designed to attract and serve workers. In its heyday, Badin bustled with a population of some 5,000 residents.

Opened in 1917, Narrows Dam, the first of four projects to be built on the Yadkin River, consists of a main dam section and a bypass spillway section.

Four steel penstocks convey water from the intake section to the powerhouse. The dam impounds a reservoir (Narrows Reservoir or Badin Lake) that has a normal full pool area of 6,355 acres and a drainage area of 4,180 square miles.

A decade ago Alcoa began to transition away from the aluminum smelter and focus on the dam’s hydroelectric capacity.

Earlier this year Cube Hydro finalized the purchase of Alcoa’s four hydroelectric power plants along the Yadkin River.

About Cube Hydro

Cube Hydro Partners operates 19 plants on 10 rivers in New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and North Carolina, with a combined capacity of more than 374 megawatts, generating 1.4 million megawatt hours annually, or enough electricity to power approximately 140,000 homes with renewable energy.

Ritchie Starnes is news editor of The Stanly News & Press. Contact him at (704) 982-2121 ext. 28, or PO Box 488, Albemarle, NC 28002.

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