NIAGARA FALLS POWER.
The Niagara Falls Power Company have in view a big scheme to divert the water, so that it will develop an enormous power for electrical and other purposes.
Several years ago it was officially estimated that the entire power employed to run all the machinery in New York State is equivalent to about 450,000 horse power, but the plans of the company look to the generation of half a million.
The question of transmission is practically the whole of the difficulty. Although the work of constructing a plant capable of generating this stupendous amount of energy has been a great one, it has practically been nothing more than a question of the application of capital and hard work along the lines of approved hydraulic engineering. The element of difficulty lies in the fact that electricity is of such an elusive character that, to speak mechanically, it leaks oif the wires. Power that can be sold at a profit at Niagara Falls at $15 per year per horse power will at a certain distance reach a price equal to that of steam, owing to the loss from leakage and the expense of installation. Electricians are cautious about making predictions as to whether this distance is 100 miles or 1,000 miles. Dr. Coleman Sellers, who is president of the Niagara Company, is an experienced engineer. He states it is absolutely certain, from what has already been done elsewhere, that profitable transmission to a distance of 150 miles is only within the existing practice of distributed power. This 150 miles from Niagara Falls, in a straight line, brings us to within ninety miles of the city of New York. And if we assume as probable economical transmission to a distance of 320 miles, we have an area including the very densest population. It would take in Columbus, Ohio, the cities of Washington, Philadelphia and New York ; would include the whole of Pennsylvania, New York, two-thirds of Ohio, three-quarters of Michigan, besides reaching to Montreal, in Canada.
Thus the situation of Niagara Falls is phenominal in its ability to distribute the power over an area that furnishes the most desirable market for its profitable development. If in the near future, as now seems entirely probable, Chicago can receive its power from Niagara Falls, then the whole of New England, as far as Maine, will come within the reach of this cyclops of energy.
Other experts back up this opinion, among whom are Lord Kelvin, formerly Sir William Thompson, and Nicola Tesla. The latter states that he has discovered mechanical appliances which would make it possible to deliver the electrical current under complete control, and without costly loss from waste, at long distances.
It was the first intention of the engineers to carry the electrical current from Niagara out over the country by means of wires stretched through a subway conduit. It was found, however, that the cost would be very great. Mr. Tesla has therefore been engaged for some time in experimenting and devising means to bring the current by overhead wires. He has assured the company that, by invention and the scientific application of newly-discovered principles, which he has made, it will be possible to convey the current without very great loss by induction or leakage, and under absolute control, by the use of certain transformance.
It yet remains to be seen whether the companies can bring electricity to New York city at a price sufflviently low to drive out steam, and practically abolish eoal used for power purposes. In a general way, it has been estimated that the power can be delivered here at a cost of about fourteen dollars per year per horse power. If this can be done, it is safe to say that within one year after its introduction the use of coal will have very largely disappeared in New York city. We should have no more smoke and no more gas.
This means a great deal. Roughly speaking, New York pays out every year $15,000,000 to $20,000,000 for gas alone. It spends upward of $30,000,000 a year for coal. In other words, if we could abolish coal and gas at a stroke it would involve an item of from $40,000,000 to $50,000,000. Add to this the sums paid out for coal and gas in the additional area of greater New York and the neighboring cities of New Jersey, and this sum would be nearly doubled. The Niagara Company is therefore planning big things.
But even this does not begin to represent the actual saving that would be effected.
At the present time to run the big cable roads of New York city there are required immense powerhouses, employing a large number of workmen, besides truckmen and horses used to transport, the necessary coal to run the engines. If these roads were run by an underground trolley, all these power-houses would be useless.
This fairly suggests the saving that would be effected all over the city. Steam engines would disappear, engineers would be out of employment, and the number of truckmen and horses would be greatly reduced.
Up to 1885 Niagara’s enormous power remained practically unused. There were hundreds of engineers or men of a mechanical turn of mind who were aware that fortunes could be made by turning millwheels with this mighty stream. Finally one of them evolved a plan for a system of wheel pits a mile and a half above the falls, to which water would be carried by lateral canals, and from which it would be taken to the river below the falls through a tunnel.
Capitalists were induced to take hold of the project, and the Niagara Falls Power Company was chartered in 1886. The first work was begun in October, 1890, four years ago. The main wheel pit was completed last year, and probably within another month the first of the giant dynamos will be ready. The work has cost, so far, some $4,000,000,and, incidentally, twenty-eight human lives.
From a point a mile and a half above the American Fall a broad, deep inlet leads back from the river. The heavy masonry with which it is lined at the upper end is pierced by a score of gateways, through which the inflowing water is admitted by short canals to pits, through penstocks. The water strikes the bronze turbine wheels at the bottom, and then is conducted through the conduits that connect each pit with the main tunnel. This tunnel carries the water underneath the heart of Buffalo to the portal just below what is known as the new Suspension Bridge.
The penstocks are brought down under the turbines and made to discharge upward into the wheels, an ingenious contrivance, by which the pressure of the water is made to bear up the entire weight of the heavy wheels and 140 feet of shafting. Three of these turbines form practically an independent plant, from which it is expected to cap 5,000 horse power. This will gradually be extended to a capacity of 50,000 horse power. In addition, another 50,000 horse power will be developed in various smniler pits adjacent. The tunnel which will carry away the water used in developing this 100,000 horse power is one and a quarter miles long, 21 feet high, and shaped like a horseshoe. It was cut in a straight line through the rock 200 feet below the surface of the city. It cost $1,250,000, being lined its entire length with from four to six layers of hard brick.
The mouth of the tunnel is nearly fifty feet lower than the head.
Over the big pits is the power house, in which are the dynamos. Like almost everything else connected with this enterprise, the three dynamos in the central power station are the most powerful ever constructed, each being expected to transform the 5,000 horse power received from its turbine shaft into an equivalent of electrical force. The most ambitious dynamos hitherto constructed produced little more than 2,000 horse power.
When the company’s entire plant is complete it will generate 450,000 horse power.
Meanwhile, and in the face of these operations, a yet greater plant is under way on the Canadian side of the falls. Permission to build this plant was obtained from the Canadian government on condition that the work be begun by May 1, 1897. It is the intention to generate 250,000 horse power eventually on the Canadian side.
All the power generated on the Canadian side will be transferred into electricity and sent to a distance, as mills could not be built adjacent to the plant without disfiguring the scenery of the beautiful Victoria Park.
There is little danger to the falls themselves. The vast mass of water speeding over the precipice will suffer but little diminution—not enough to even make it apparent to the naked eye. The official report of State Engineer Bogart in 1890 estimates that the diversion of enoug water to produce a hundred thousand horse power would reduce the depth of the water at the crest of the American fall about an inch and a half. 80 that the half a million horse power called for by the present plans of both companies will scarcely reduce the height of the falls three-quarters of a foot—hardly enough to make a noticeable difference in the appearance of this mighty cataract, whose sources of power come from half way across the continent, and whose strength, ceaselessly put forth, is more than twice as great as the combined energy of every steam engine in North America. Niagara will still be the monarch of waterfalls.