A Rare Look Inside the Powerhouse at Kentucky Dam

It’s not every day one gets to see the inner-workings of a large hydroelectric plant inside a huge dam. The opportunity presented itself to us not too long ago – we got to partake in a private tour of the powerhouse at Kentucky Dam.

Prior to the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks, parts of the powerhouse at Kentucky Dam was open to the public. However, since 9/11, only the Visitor’s Center at Kentucky Dam remains open with limited hours.

Visitors can see the Kentucky Dam control room from the lobby.

Last year TVA announced they would be opening some of the dams for a private tour – an inside look at some of the features the public typically doesn’t get to see.  We signed up, submitted our social security numbers and other personal information for a thorough background check. We were eventually approved and had the private tour date and time set.

On that day we joined the tour with about 15 to 20 other citizens along with several employees of TVA. We were treated to some insightful information and were led throughout the tour by an employee who knows Kentucky Dam like to back of his hand.

A visitor on the tour looks at one of the displays inside the lobby at Kentucky Dam.

Aside from the recently redecorated lobby that anyone today can see during normal visiting hours, the main attraction was the generator room. We were able to see the five massive generators with huge spinning, generating clean and efficient power for our region. Sometimes one or two may only be running; other times all five could be operational, especially during peak electric usage. On this day, four were in operation and the vibration of the plant was quite the experience.

These five generators can produce a net dependable capacity of 184 megawatts. Net dependable capacity is the amount of power the dam can produce on an average day, minus the electricity used by the dam itself.  That’s enough power for tens of thousands of homes. An interactive display showing how Kentucky Dam uses the water to produce electricity was also on hand.

Kentucky Dam
A TVA employee demonstrates how Kentucky Dam produces electricity.

Some funny antidotes were also shared by the tour guide. One memorable tale involved the infamous ice storm of 2009. With the large limbs and power lines breaking under the pressure of the ice, mass blackouts ensued throughout the region. The guide said shortly after the power went out in nearby Paducah, a relative of his called him and asked if they had power at the dam.  Uh… seriously?

TVA may announce future dam tours across the Tennessee River system. If you’re interested, follow them on Facebook and watch for updates.

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