Olmsted History

A Historic ConnectionA quick look at how the project began and how far we've come

The Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant located at the mouth of Provo Canyon in Utah County, Utah is one of the oldest hydro power generation facilities in the western United States.

A Colorado mining executive, Lucien L. Nunn and the Telluride Power Company began hydroelectric power generation at Nunn’s Station in Provo Canyon in 1897. Located approximately 4.5 miles up Provo Canyon, Nunn’s Station generated alternating current (AC) power at 44,000 volts and transmitted this power over 32 miles to the mining town of Mercur. This was the first high-voltage, long-distance, alternating power transmission system in the world.

With an increasing demand for power, Nunn moved the power station to the mouth of Provo Canyon to take advantage of the increased water drop for greater pressure on the turbines that produced the power.

Fay Devaux (Fred) Olmsted, a Colorado native and an engineering graduate of the University of Michigan, designed the new generating station and a large wooden flume from the Provo River diversion that supplied water to the new station. Before the plant was completed, Fred Olmsted died of tuberculosis and the plant was subsequently named after him. The Olmsted Plant opened and permanently replaced the Nunn’s Station in 1904.

With the completion of the Olmsted Hydroelectric Plant, Nunn laid out plans for the creation of Telluride Institute, an on-site campus, one of only two competent electrical engineering teaching facilities in the United States at that time, providing on-the-job training for electrical engineers. The Institute is still in existence today at Cornell University.

The historic Olmsted Power House, which is on the National Registry of Historic Places and much of the equipment within the building, will be developed and maintained as a museum.

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A New Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant

In 1912, the Telluride Power Company stockholders, desiring to focus on power generation, split off the power assets from the educational functions and offered them for sale. The stockholders formed a new company, Utah Power and Light (UP&L), to purchase the power assets. UP&L was the successful bidder and took ownership of the Olmsted power station. UP&L made several improvements to the Olmsted plant, including the installation of an additional turbine and generator set and replacing the wooden flume with the Olmsted Flowline, or Green Snake – a large, green steel pipe that carried the water from the Provo River diversion to the power plant.

In 1987, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation secured ownership of the Olmsted Flowline and the associated water rights as an essential part of the Central Utah Project (CUP). In the associated 1990 Settlement Agreement, the Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant was added to the CUP to better secure and develop the water rights. The Olmsted Settlement Agreement permitted PacifiCorp to continue to operate and receive the energy produced from the Olmsted Power Plant through September 21, 2015. That Settlement Agreement expired on September 22, 2015 and power generation at the site ceased.

The continued operation of the Olmsted power plant is essential to maintaining the Olmsted Water Rights, which are a large, critical part of the water supply of CUP. In 2010, after a comprehensive evaluation of the power plant systems, it was determined that the existing facilities were well past their useful life and design of a replacement power plant began.

Construction of the Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant Replacement Project began in the summer of 2016. Work included a rehabilitation of an existing 102-inch pipeline, lining the existing 12-foot rock-tunnel with an 84-inch steel pipeline, constructing a new cliff spillway structure, surge tank, 84-inch buried penstock and power house with new hydroelectric equipment and installation of a new power transmission line to the Provo Power system.

The new Olmsted plant is a “run of the river” plant producing power only when water demands from downstream users necessitate water deliveries. The total cost of the replacement project is approximately $42 million. Commercial power production will commence in October 2018. The Olmsted Power Plant is a Federal facility operated and maintained by the Central Utah Water Conservancy District producing power marketed by the Western Area Power Authority serving local customers including CUWCD, Provo Power, Utah Municipal Power Authority, Utah Associated Power Systems, Weber Basin Water Conservancy District and the cities of Lehi and Kaysville.

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Olmsted Posters

Timelapse Construction