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Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant

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1904, Paul N. Nunn, engineer. 1018 N. 1630 E. St.
  • Southeast facade
  • Transformers and powerhouse below, pressure box and penstocks on the hill above
  • Southeast principal facade
  • Interior exposed ceiling trusses
  • Turbine

The Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant in Orem was the brainchild of Lucien Lucius Nunn, a pioneer in the development of alternating current (AC) high voltage transmission. Nunn commissioned his brother, chief engineer Paul N. Nunn, to supervise construction of the facility, which was named after Fay DeVeaux Olmsted, a young mechanical engineer who was instrumental in its design and construction but who died before the facility’s inauguration. The plant employed lessons learned from the world’s first AC power project produced a few years earlier by Nunn in Ames, Colorado. These outfits lay to rest doubts about the safety and technical considerations associated with alternating current, which would make delivery of electricity efficient and affordable for area residents.

Located at the base of a steep hillside at the mouth of Provo Canyon, siting was critical to this power plant. Water for the power plant was diverted from the Provo River approximately 4.5 miles up the canyon. The water was conveyed from an oblong, octagonal-shaped reservoir through the Olmsted Flowline, located along the foothills of Mount Timpanogos above the Provo River. The flowline led to a rock tunnel that, in turn, connected to a concrete and metal building called the pressure box. The concrete base of this building contained head gates, which controlled water flow from the rock tunnel to four penstocks. Above this concrete base is a gray corrugated metal shed with asymmetrical pitched roof; seven and five equidistant windows puncture the perimeter of the shed longer and shorter sides, respectively.

At the bottom of the valley stood the handsomely proportioned volume of the powerhouse, which contained three turbines and generators, two exciters, nine oil switches, and four rheostats. The building was extended in 1917 to make room for a fourth turbine and generator; at this time the wood flume was also enlarged and the fourth penstock added. Attending electricians supervised operations from behind a glass wall that faced the turbines. An adjacent substation was also built as part of the 1917 expansion. In 1948–1951, a steel flume replaced the frequently damaged wood flume.

The Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant produced ten megawatts when operating at full capacity. Nunn also established the Telluride Institute, an electrical school for approximately 40 students that was adjacent to the power plant. In 1912, the Utah Power and Light Company acquired the Olmsted Power Plant and shuttered the school. The federal government acquired the plant in 1987 in an effort to meet the projected water demand for the Wasatch Front communities. Operations continued at the Olmsted Power Plant until 2015, when the aging and deteriorated facility was shuttered. A newer brick powerhouse was constructed immediately north of the existing building, on the site of various outbuildings (including a stable, carpenter shop, garage, blacksmith’s shop, and other maintenance sheds); the four penstocks were also replaced with a single buried penstock. Plans are underway to convert the original powerhouse into a museum of hydroelectric power. The new plant now produces 27,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of energy per year, more than doubling the energy produced by the former plant.

References

Johnson, Sarah. “Scoping for the Olmstead Hydroelectric Power Plant Replacement Project.” Central Utah Water Conservancy District, December 6, 2013.

U.S. Department of the Interior, Central Utah Project Completion Act Office. “Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant Replacement Project: Final Environmental Assessment,” January 2015. Accessed July 20, 2016. http://www.cupcao.gov/docs/EA/Olmsted/FINAL-Olmsted-EA.pdf.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Shundana Yusaf
Coordinator: 
Shundana Yusaf
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Data

Timeline

  • 1904

    Built
  • 1917

    Expanded
  • 2015

    Decommissioned

What's Nearby

Citation

Shundana Yusaf, "Olmsted Hydroelectric Power Plant", [Orem, Utah], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/UT-01-049-0062.

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