Power station taps Niagara

Harnessing North America’s most voluminous waterfalls to produce more than 1GW of electricity from one power station wasn’t an easy task.

Nikola Tesla and George Westinghouse had built the first hydro-electric plant at Niagara Falls in 1895 and several others followed. But the post-war recovery of the 1940s and 1950s left the US and Canada hungry for more power.

Opened in 1954 by the Duchess of Kent and 25 tons of explosives, the Sir Adam Beck – Niagara No. 2 cost almost $344m and eventually had a generating capacity of 1,370MW. Although today dwarfed by China’s 22,500MW Three Gorges Dam, Adam Beck 2 was, at the time, one of the world’s largest hydro-electric plants. In 1965, a faulty transmission line from the station would leave 30 million people without electricity.

But, as The Engineer reported in October 1954, ’the great size of the power station is not by any means its only claim to the interest of the engineer, for various technical problems of unusual difficulty had to be solved in its design and construction’.

The great size of the power station is not its only claim to interest

A 1950 treaty set out the challenges for the engineers of the Hydro-Electric Power Commission of Ontario: preserving the falls’ natural beauty while maximising the station’s power output and distributing the flow of water more evenly. This was achieved by building an underwater weir and a 1,550ft control structure with 13 sluice gates, and excavating along various parts of Horseshoe Falls’ 2,600ft crest line, where 90 per cent of Niagara’s four million cubic feet per minute of water flowed.

The Engineer also described the challenge faced by building intakes that would minimise turbulence and avoid getting choked by ice in winter.