Missouri dam gets environmentally friendly transformers

Monday, September 30, 2013 | 7:10 a.m. CDT; updated 11:30 a.m. CDT, Monday, September 30, 2013

LAKE OZARK — Four aging transformers at Bagnell Dam in southwest Missouri are being replaced with environmentally safe models that haven't been used anywhere else in North America.

Ameren Missouri is preparing to install the third transformer, and the fourth will go in sometime in the next few years depending on the utility's budget, said Alan Sullivan, consulting engineer for Ameren.

At a cost of $4 million each, the new gas transformers are replacing the old oil-powered units that were installed more than 80 years ago. Not only are the new ones safer for the environment, they are also safer for people who live, work and play at Lake of the Ozarks, the Jefferson City News Tribune reported.

"The old transformers were powered with oil, which is of course explosive. And if a leak occurred, it could cause environmental problems for the Lake, the (Osage) river and the surrounding land," Sullivan said. "But, what could be even more important is that the gas transformers are non-explosive so the physical danger to those who live, work and play near the dam will be vastly reduced."

The Mitsubishi Plant in Tokyo is the only place in the world that manufactures the transformers, which are shipped to the U.S. in pieces and assembled on site by workers with Bagnell Dam's maintenance crew. Once they have arrived, it takes about a month to put the gigantic machines together and get them up and running.

Those maintenance workers aren't doing the job without some assistance, however.

"When we installed the first one, we had the expertise of four engineers from Japan on hand to supervise," Sullivan said. "Now that we are on the third one, we only need the help of one of those engineers. But he stays here and helps us through the entire installation process until the transformer is up and running."

James Lueckenoff, Bagnell Dam's production supervisor and engineer, brought the idea of using gas-powered transformers to Ameren Missouri. He said he got the idea from an engineer who told him how they were being used throughout Asia.

The dam's transformers are used to increase the voltage of the electricity generated by the hydroelectric plant before it is sent out on the grid. When all four are up and running, the generators will take the 14,000 volts of electricity put out by the dam's generators and "ramp it up" to roughly 140,000 volts before sending it to the grid, Sullivan said.

He said the old transformers didn't cause any environmental or safety problems at the dam, but maintenance and safety testing in recent years showed they were beginning to deteriorate internally.

"The old transformers were the originals that were installed in 1931 when the dam was built," Sullivan said. "Although they had done the job for all these years, and our crews kept them in good shape, it was becoming obvious that they needed to be updated and the decision for replacing them with the gas-powered ones was both more environmentally responsible and safer for both our workers and the public at large."

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