Ames Power Plant History
The Gold King Mining Company, operating near Alta Lakes (in the Telluride area), had been losing money. The timber used to fuel the mine was exhausted, and it cost $40-50 per ton to haul coal using burros. A lawyer from Telluride, L.L.Nunn, as the major stockholder, was determined to solve the problem. He realized that some system of electrical transmission was necessary. Nunn saw the potential of the south fork of the San Miguel River. L.L.Nunn needed technical assistance which he found in his brother, Paul N. Nunn. Paul was interested in George Westinghouse’s ideas (alternating current) as opposed to Thomas Edison’s ideas (direct current).
When the Gold King Mine Company signed a contract with the Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company, few eastern engineers gave the project a chance to work.
The project drew many young men, many from Cornell University, to work in “Otto Mears country”. A dam was built and piping was installed to deliver water to a six foot Pelton water wheel. The machinery used was a Tesla motor and generator furnished by Westinghouse Electric and Manufacturing Company.
Three months later, June 19, 1891, power was delivered a distance of 2.6 miles to the Gold King mine. It was two months ahead of the Lauffen-Frankfort project in Germany.
After the initial start-up, operators ran the plant uninterrupted for 30 days-they feared that if there was a shutdown, they would not be able to successfully restart the system.
The power plant at Ames, Colorado became the first power station in the world to transmit alternating current at high voltage for power purposes.
Sources: The Western Engineer, “It Happened in Colorado-A world’s First in Engineering History”, April 1, 1963, Inez Hunt
Ames Hydro:Making History since 1891, www.hydroworld.com
Ames Power Plant 1935