Hydro plant upgraded to power Auto Road Base Station


January 19, 2011
GREEN'S GRANT — The tiny hydroelectric plant at the base of the Mount Washington Auto Road and Great Glen Trails has been upgraded to supply all the base facility's electrical needs.

Auto Road general manager Howie Wemyss showed off the upgraded turbine-and-generator on Friday afternoon in a small 14- by 10-foot building tucked into the embankment on the west side of Route 16, north of Pinkham Notch.

Electrical engineer Bill Clewes of Littleton, of Technical Services, and mechanical engineer Greg Cloutier of Lancaster who owns Power House Services, designed a new system designed to supply 10.5 kilowatts (kW) of electricity under PSNH's net metering program, explained Wemyss. Clewes had previously conducted the yearly generator interconnect certification mandated by Public Service of New Hampshire (PSNH).

If all works out as anticipated, the financial payback will only take four years. The current $12,000-a-year cost of electricity will should be reduced to nil by the early months of 2015.

Clewes figured out that the existing hydro system, upgraded in 1985 by the late Auto Road manager Doug Philbrook of Gorham, which was supposed to generate 10kW, had never worked correctly and only produced some 1.5 or 2.0 kW. He was sure that a better system could be worked out. Clewes specified a new Pelton wheel, outfitted with cups that catch the 72-pound water pressure that comes into building that then turns the shaft to the turbine.

Cloutier specified a new turbine from Canyon Hydro of Canyon Industries of Deming, Wash.

"I wasn't convinced until a couple of days ago that the system would really work," Wemyss admitted. "Any excess electricity that we don't use will go onto the grid from the building, running the meter backwards."

Wemyss explained that the "waterworks" of the Auto Road, named the Mount Washington Carriage Road 150 years ago, dates back to the turn of the 20th century if not before.

"There was the dam in the Nineteen-Mile Brook that held back water so it could be diverted toward the Glen House," Wemyss said. "The second Glen House (1885 to 1893) boasted running water and flush toilets, so it's reasonable to think that it might have come into being in the 1880s as a direct current line."

Improvements were made in 1995, cutting down on time-consuming and costly maintenance, he explained. The Honeymoon Dam on the east side of Route 2 is the start of the penstock that feeds the hydro-station as well as the fire sprinkler system. An eight-inch iron pipe runs next to the Honeymoon Cottage, goes under both the Great Glen parking lot and under Route 16 and into the generator building.

An unrelated pair of aboveground pipes serves as the water supply to the 2-kilometer snowmaking system, primarily for the open-field cross-county ski trails plus for tubing at Great Glen.

"Back in the 50s, there was also a building called the Diesel Power House," said Wemyss, noting that this history is a bit sketchy. "I believe this and the hydro-station supplied all of the power to that era's Glen House (1925 to 1967) and may have continued to do so until Wildcat Ski Area came into being in Jan., 1958, when I think PSNH decided to run power lines into Pinkham Notch.

Wildcat, the first ski area established on the White Mountain National Forest, is located 100 percent on National Forest Land.

The Nineteen-Mile Brook watershed flows west down the mountain from Carter Dome and Wildcat B.

PSNH employees Brian Betts and Jonathan Taylor were on hand to congratulate the Auto Road and its consultants.

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