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AC-power Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant

Interior view, 1895 Ames powerhouse
Interior view, 1895 Ames powerhouse

Ames, CO Dedicated July 1988 - IEEE Pikes Peak Section:


"Electricity produced here in the spring of 1891 was transmitted 2.6 miles over rugged and at times inaccessible terrain to provide power for operating the motor-driven mill at the Gold King Mine. This pioneering demonstration of the practical value of transmitting electrical power was a significant precedent in the United States for much larger plants at Niagara Falls (in 1895) and elsewhere. Electricity at Ames was generated at 3000 volts, 133 Hertz, single-phase AC, by a 100-hp Westinghouse alternator".


The plaque can be viewed at the Ames plant, on Ophir Rd., just outside of the village of Ophir, Colorado, U.S.A.


Overall view of Ames plant, early 20th century
Overall view of Ames plant, early 20th century


The Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant, located near Ophir, Colorado, was the world's first commercial system to produce and transmit alternating current (AC) electricity for industrial use. It is now on the List of IEEE Milestones.


In the summer of 1890, Westinghouse Electric supplied the station's generator and motor. They were installed in the winter, and from Spring 1891 provided alternating current electricity that was transmitted 2.6 miles (4.2 km) to a motor-driven stamp mill at the Gold King Mine. The mill was at the time at risk of shutdown from lack of timber fuel for its existing steam mill. The AC power plant effort was financed by L.L. Nunn.

Interior view, 1895 Ames powerhouse


The generator is driven by a six-foot Pelton wheel under a 320-foot (98 m) head. Its 100 horsepower (75 kW) Westinghouse single-phase generator was the largest then manufactured, generating electricity at 3000 volts, 133 Hertz, single-phase AC. Voltmeters and ammeters were of both the solenoid and gravity balance types. The transmission line was built from Western Union cross-arms with insulators carrying two bare copper wires. Total wire costs were about US $700, about 1% of the cost estimated for a direct-current line. The entire plant required 15 to 20 attendants for its continuous operation.


The alternating current was proven to be effective as it was transmitted two miles (3 km) at a loss of less than 5%.[citation needed]

Exterior view, Ames Power Station, built 1905. 2010 photo by Ray Wood.


The station was built during the "War of Currents" between Westinghouse and Thomas Edison as to whether alternating current or direct current electric power would prevail, and its success led to adoption of alternating current at much larger plants at Niagara Falls (Adams Power Plant in 1895) and its eventual dominance worldwide.


The Ames plant became part of the Nunn’s Telluride Power Company which would later become part of Western Colorado Power Company, formed as a wholly owned subsidiary of Utah Power and Light. Public Service Company acquired the plant with other Colorado Ute properties in 1992.


The 1905 power house is still in service for Public Service Company, a subsidiary of Xcel Energy., with two Pelton wheels powering a single 1904 General Electric generator, with output of 2,400 volts, and 1,082 amperes at a speed of 225 R.P.M.


The Ames Hydroelectric Generating Plant power plant is the oldest hydropower plant, which produces and transmit alternating current for industrial purposes, means for operating machinery.


The oldest hydroelectric power plant supplying a commercial transmission system for alternative current is the power plant Thorenberg near Lucerne in Switzerland. The plant started operation in May 1886 and fed a nearly 3 miles (4.8 km) long transmission line with a voltage of 1,800 volts. The voltage was transformed to 100 volt to be used for the electric illumination in some hotels and restaurants in the downtown area of the city.


A few months before the Thorenberg plant the first alternative current distribution network with two voltage level started operation in Great Barrington, Massachusetts at March 20, 1886. The power for this system was generator by a steam engine.



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