That the PPL Holtwood hydroelectric facility expansion was a big project — one of the largest of its kind in the nation — is evident not just from its cost but also its timeline.
"We actually began planning for the facility and the new construction in about 2004," said John M. Levitski, PPL's regional affairs director. "We canceled that effort when the economy tanked. Then we revived it in 2009, when the stimulus funding kind of tipped the scales in favor of construction."
That funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, expected to be awarded now that the project is largely complete, is indeed substantial: More than $100 million, roughly a quarter of the final project cost of $440 million.
The project's primary feature is, of course, the new 125-megawatt powerhouse that joined the original 108-megawatt powerhouse, which was finished in 1910. The additional capacity is enough to power about 100,000 homes and, according to Victor Lopiano, senior vice president of fossil and hydro generation for PPL, the two new turbines are capable of generating more electricity than all 12 existing turbines combined.
"This project highlights the potential to upgrade existing hydroelectric facilities and expand capacity without the need to build new dams," Lopiano said.
Major work started in January 2010, Levitski said, and in all more than 1.3 million cubic yards were excavated, with the addition requiring more than 3,300 tons of rebar and more than 70,000 cubic yards of concrete. The project created more than 300 jobs.
Beyond the power generation itself, there was much environmental attention on the project.
"One of the key drivers in our decision really to expand the facility was to better attract fish into the fish lifts and ease their migration along the Susquehanna," said Levitski.
The fish-friendly Kaplan turbines, generators and automation equipment came from West Manchester Township-based Voith Hydro.
"Holtwood is a terrific example of how hydropower development can not only provide jobs and clean energy but improve the environment and surrounding habitats at locks and dams that have existed for decades," said Kevin Frank, Voith's president and CEO.
It's also an example of how proximity can help a company.
"We're 34 miles from the site," said Frank, "so the shipping was a major advantage for us."
Even being located that close, Frank said, transporting the turbines took four days. But, crucially, they were shipped fully assembled — something that couldn't have been done from a plant much farther away, he said.
Susquehanna Township-based McClure Co., a subsidiary of PPL Energy Services, was also highly involved at Holtwood, according to McClure President Chip Brown, who said completing the mechanical work took about 50 McClure employees more than three years.
"The largest piping was 78 inches, which was the fish attraction piping, which facilitates the upstream movement of fish over the dam," Brown said. "Nearly all of the piping was fabricated in McClure's shop in Harrisburg from full 3-D computer models."
The conservation focus went beyond fish, Levitski said.
"We had to make sure that any blasting of rock down there didn't affect the nesting bald eagles and blue herons," he said. "We also had to take care not to harm the American holly trees that were down there. We actually moved those to a nursery, so they had to be brought back and replanted."
And, Levitski said, well over $5 million was spent for whitewater boating features on the south side of dam, and about $3.5 million went for enhanced public boating and fishing access.
"The overall experience will be improved for fishermen, boaters, those recreating and using the public facilities," he said.