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Keokuk Energy Center: 100 Years of Reliable, Renewable Energy

Known as the greatest water development project of its time, the center forever changed how electrical power is created and managed.

By harnessing the power of the mighty Mississippi River since 1913, Ameren Missouri’s Keokuk Energy Center hydroelectric power plant in Iowa has been able to annually supply 72,000 homes with clean, low-cost and reliable electricity.

Keokuk Energy Center is a “run-of-river” type of hydroelectric plant, which converts the natural energy of falling water to generate electricity—a constant, renewable energy source that emits zero air pollution or solid waste.

The low-cost aspect of Keokuk’s electric power generation comes from the fact that there are no fuel costs—as long as the water keeps running, so does the electricity. Every day that Keokuk runs means 1,000 tons of coal that doesn’t have to be burned. Operating costs are also well below those of nuclear and fossil fuel plants.

In the cases of system emergencies or extra demand, Keokuk can help meet those needs at a moment’s notice because hydro power plants can be started in mere minutes, unlike nuclear or fossil fuel plants.

Besides being a key part of the region’s green electricity-generating infrastructure, Keokuk Energy Center is also a historically significant work of engineering mastery. Known as the greatest water development project of its time, it served as the impetus for inventions that forever changed how electrical power is created and managed.

The Backstory of Keokuk Energy Center

The potential of the Keokuk site for power generation was first recognized way back in 1836, when a surveyor for the U.S. War Department named Robert E. Lee (the same Lee who would later command the Confederate army during the Civil War) first called attention to a turbulent and steep section of the Mississippi River, known as the Des Moines Rapids. However, first attempts to harness its power proved unsuccessful.

Power generation at the site remained just an idea until technology caught up to the potential in 1899. By this time, Thomas Edison had developed a system for electricity distribution, and Keokuk began to be viewed as a “natural” location for a hydroelectric plant. That year, a group of prominent businessmen from Keokuk and nearby Hamilton, IL, convened to build a dam to generate electricity and attract businesses to the area. The group spent several years fundraising, conducted a feasibility study of the site, and eventually got the federal government to approve the project.

The company brought in Hugh L. Cooper—who’d engineered construction of the hydro plant at Niagra Falls—to do the same at Keokuk.

Construction financing came from contracts to supply electricity to three St. Louis-area customers: Union Electric Light and Power Company, Laclede Gas Company, and United Railways Company, a streetcar operator. When construction began in 1913, crews excavated over one million cubic yards of earth and rock.

Keokuk Energy Center Today

Ameren Missouri has invested millions of dollars into updating and maintaining the Keokuk Energy Center over the decades. In 2001, Ameren Missouri began converting and replacing the original turbines, first installed when the plant opened in 1913, with more efficient stainless steel turbines. Automation was introduced in the 1980s and 1990s.

Keokuk currently offers 15 main turbine-generator units with a net capacity of 142 MW. Modern high-voltage transmission technology owes a lot to the Keokuk project. Some of the same towers and insulators installed at Keokuk are still in use today. In fact, much of the original equipment in the entire system remains unchanged to this day. In 2013, Keokuk was inducted into the Hydro Hall of Fame for its long service life and “firsts” in the hydropower industry.

Keokuk Energy Center is one of three hydroelectric plants in the Ameren Missouri system. Others are at Bagnell Dam Osage Energy Center in Lake of the Ozarks, Mo., and Taum Sauk Energy Center near Lesterville, Mo. These facilities place Ameren Missouri in good company with other U.S. renewable energy companies.

Learn more about Ameren Missouri's hydroelectric power-generation capabilities.

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