More than four years after the Taum Sauk breach, a re-built Upper Reservoir has the hydroelectric plant fully operational.
Standing on top of the new $490 million reservoir, which sits in almost the exact footprint of the one that breached in 2005, Bob Meiners with Ameren says a major change is that there are now safeguards for the safeguards.
“There’s a lot more redundancy in the level of control protection than there was before. In addition, there are nine cameras. We didn’t have those cameras before. Also, the plant will be staffed 24/7, someone here monitoring it,” Meiners said.
“The old reservoir had basically level controls and a protection system, two types. This one has five different means, it has level controls and then it has four separate independent protection systems that will shut the pumps off,” said Mark Birk, Ameren’s Vice President of Power Operations.
Birk says the dam could have a life span as long as 100 years.
“I believe that this dam is as close to fail safe as you can get. While you can’t ever guarantee anything 100%, we can guarantee this was built with the highest quality and highest safety,” Birk said.
John Norris, the Commissioner of the Federal Regulation and Oversight of Energy (FERC), was on hand for the ceremony in Annapolis marking the re-opening of the plant. He says it’s not bad to border on overkill when it comes to safety, considering recent disasters in energy industries.
“In the Gulf (of Mexico), and in West Virginia with the mine explosion. You know, for just a little bit more money we can be a lot safer, and why not be redundant almost to the point of being ridiculous? In the scope of things, the costs and implementations of those monitors, let’s do it,” Norris said.
Meantime, down on ground level, Dam safety specialist Matt Frerking says the new roller-compacted concrete structure is a huge improvement from the previous model.
“It’s almost impossible to compare the two, because this is actually a concrete dam, compared to dumped rock fill. This dam was designed with all the modern guidelines and standards,” Frerking said.
Norris says engineers from around the world can learn from Taum Sauk, both from the mistakes, and from the new state-of-the-art reservoir.
“The foundation and construction is able to last for darn near forever, and the instrumentation is at such a light level that accidents are nearly negligible, any chance they’re going to happen,” Norris said.
Ameren admits a true tragedy was avoided, only because the water poured into Johnson’s Shut-Ins state park in the winter instead of the summer. There likely would have been hundreds of people would have been camping and visiting there on any given summer day. Only a park superintendent’s family was on park grounds at the time. The house they were in was swept off its foundation, and some members of that family were injured, but all survived.
President and CEO of Ameren Tom Voss says the ceremony has the complete opposite feeling from that day in December 2005.
“It was a dark day for us. I tell people it was like you lost a friend. We all went into literally mourning; we all felt that sudden loss of something that was important to us something we were very proud of. We had to get over that, and we had to decide then what to do… First of all we had to stabilize the situation both here and down in the park. But once we got past that we had to go through the process, if we would build again what would we build, and how would we build it so that absolutely nothing like that could ever happen again,” Voss said.
The settlement with the state was to the tune of $180 million, and $103 million of that was spent to clean up and re-build Johnson’s Shut-Ins State Park. The park just re-opened its last portion of campgrounds last weekend.
The hydroelectric plant actually began operating on April 15th, and Birk says it’s possible customers may see their bills drop as the energy source is added back into the company’s supply. He says Ameren went to great lengths to make sure the loss of the energy supply since 2005 did not affect customers.