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Electric Power and Light
There are in Grand Rapids today many persons who can recall the first electric power station, with its huge, ungainly, inefficient dynamos limited in capacity to a few score horse power and in scope of usefulness to a restricted territory within a few short blocks of the power plant. They have seen the industry grow from a small, doubtful business experiment to a vast organization of men, money and machinery which serves 55,000 customers with seventy-six million kilowatt hours of electrical energy annually.
Grand Rapids was practically the center for the pioneer engineering of the one man whose daring and vision opened the way for the great electric power industry which today is one of the real foundations of domestic and industrial activities throughout the nation. W. A. Foote dreamed of one day developing water power resources in northern Michigan and bringing the energy from those restless streams to the centers of population a hundred miles away. He did not live to witness the realization of all his dreams.
When Mr. Foote first painted the picture of what since has come to be accepted as the modern, "superpower" system, it seemed a fantastic venture. Electric power in commercial volume had not then been transmitted over more than a few miles of wire. But Mr. Foote, with his brother, J. B. Foote, saw possibilities in higher voltage than had hitherto been attempted and experimented between Kalamazoo, Battle Creek and Jackson on a smaller scale. These experiments convinced the brothers that, with electricity at sufficiently high pressures, the energy from the Muskegon river, fifty miles away, could be brought to Grand Rapids and here made to do man's bidding.
Handling currents of 120, 220, 440 and even 5,000 volts had been accomplished by easy stages of development in line and equipment design. But each increase in the pressure made the problem more difficult, dangerous and expensive. The Foote brothers had demonstrated to the world that lines carrying current at 20,000 and 40,000 volts were practical and then, in 1905, W. A. Foote organized the Grand Rapids-Muskegon Power company, began building on the Muskegon river near Stanwood what is today the Rogers dam of the Consumers Power company, and proceeded to startle the electrical wizards of that period with designs for a transmission line operating at a pressure of 110,000 volts. They said it couldn't be done---that insulators could not be made which would keep current from leaving the line; that transformers would not stand up under such pressures, and it was doubtful whether switches could be built that would safely open and close the circuits. But it was done! That line between Rogers and Grand Rapids still is in service.
Here, then, was the pioneer electrical power line for the vast network of high pressure transmitting systems which now cover the United States. It was but a few years later when Grand Rapids was served by transmission lines carrying pressures of 150,000 volts, and this has come to be the standard voltage of the network of 1,600 miles of transmission lines spread over a large portion of the lower peninsula of Michigan, linking together in the world's first real "superpower" system not only the thirty-three water power and twelve steam power plants of the Consumers Power company, but the 203 communities and 300,000 customers served by this company.
Following the construction of Rogers dam, the Foote interests built the present Croton dam and power house and put a second harness across Muskegon river in order that it might work for Grand Rapids. Another transmission line was built and in 1910 the plans for a state-wide system began to take actual form through the consolidation of a large group of small local power plants which became the basis for the present Consumers Power company. This consolidation tied Grand Rapids with Kalamazoo, Jackson, Battle Creek, Flint, Owosso, Saginaw, Bay City, Cadillac, Manistee and Muskegon into one big system, including water power properties on the Au Sable river, which the new company immediately laid plans to develope.
In 1911, Cooke dam was built on the Au Sable and the current brought south to the centers of industry in the Saginaw valley over 150,000 volt transmission lines. One year later the Au Sable was harnessed again by the completion of the Five Channels plant, and Loud dam was constructed in 1913.
Since then, Foote, Mio and Alcona dams have been built on the Au Sable and Junction and Hodenpyl on the Manistee. Another big Muskegon river development somewhere between the present Roger and Croton dams soon will be completed, explorative tests now being made at various points to establish suitable foundation.
Hand in hand with the developement of water power resources, it was Mr. Foote's plan to construct big, economical steam plants at strategical locations throughout the system to maintain what he then figured would be an economical balance as between steam and water power resources, and which has since been borne out in years of actual practice. The Wealthy avenue steam plant on the west side is one of these. The other later and bigger plants of this type are located at Battle Creek and at Zilwaukee, between Bay City and Saginaw. What might be termed the second line of steam power resources are plants at Kalamazoo, Jackson and Flint.
Grand Rapids is one of the centers of the Consumers Power company transmission system. One 140,000 volt line extends 101 miles from this city to Junction dam and there is really an extension of this line from Junction, ten miles to Hodenpyl. Other 140,000 volt transmission lines connect Grand Rapids with Kalamazoo and Battle Creek, tying-in with the southern and northeastern sections of the system. Two other high tension lines connect Croton and Grand Rapids and there is a third circuit available from Croton by was of Kent City. Croton and Rogers, of course, are tied together so that there are two sources of supply at the north end of these three circuits into this city. A lower voltage line connects Grand Rapids and the Lowell plant on Flat river.
In addition to the big Wealthy avenue steam plant, with its some 30,000 available horse power, there is the old Edison plant in Fulton street, recently remodeled to specialize in steam heating. IN this plant the equipment is arranged to obtain electricity as a sort of by-product to steam heating, but the turbo-generators can be put on the line at any time to supply 2,000 horse power. The old Grand Rapids Edison west side power plant is limited to only about 400 horse power and is used largely to supply direct current for the business district.
The Consumers Power company now serves 55,808 customers in Grand Rapids. There are 1,809 miles of overhead wire line for distribution of current and 29 miles of underground line in the business district. Over these copper wires an annual total of 75,725,806 kilowatt hours of energy is distributed to the company's customers. In addition, Grand Rapids is the distribution center for twenty-nine other communities covering territory to the lake shore on the west, Big Rapids, north; Ada on the east and Dutton on the south.
And all this because, twenty years ago, a daring, ingenious pioneer, with vision and courage, dreamed a dream which others said could not come true and then----made it come true.
Transcriber: Ronnie Aungst
Created: 16 January 2000