Utah Power in the Gem Valley and Grace

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One company that has dominated the landscape in Gem Valley over the years has been Utah Power and Light.  Their history in the valley began in 1906, when  Mr. L.L. Nunn, a lawyer from Utah that had been involved in developing hydroelectric power in Colorado and Utah for the mining industry, came to Grace and saw the potential for hydroelectric power generation along the Bear River. 

Utah Power and Light Power PlantHis company, the Telluride Power Company, then began construction of a series of dams along the Bear River. The first was located just north of Grace.  It diverted the water from Bear River into a large wooden and steel pipeline.  The water was then carried to a powerhouse that was built at the Grace Plant, which is located about four and one half  miles south and west of the dam.  At the Grace Plant, the water was  directed into three separate turbines that generated the electricity.  With a drop of some 530 feet in elevation between the dam site and the powerhouse, considerable electricity was generated. This complex was later acquired by Utah Power and Light.

  Later, a second generating facility was  constructed about a mile and a half south of the Grace Plant at what came to be known as the Cove Plant.  With a drop in elevation of almost 100 feet, Utah Power's  engineers were quick to recognize the potential of this location for additional power generation.  In 1923-24, an additional dam and power plant were constructed at Alexander, about 6 miles north of Grace. 

This complex of dams was one of the first multi-purpose, hydroelectric plants in the world. Their combined generating capacity eventually reached over 50,000 KWH. This  initially provided a very significant portion of the total electrical energy generated by Utah Power and Light  for their customers. 

Over the years, with their increased capacity to generate  electrical power from coal fired steam plants, the Grace facilities  contribution to the companies power generation has  been reduced.  Currently, only about 3 % of Utah Power and Light's total electrical generation comes from the Grace facility.

The power produced at the Grace complex was originally intended for the mining industry in Utah.  As soon as power was available, a group of businessmen constructed a transmission line from the Grace Plant into Grace and then charged the homes and businesses in Grace for connecting on and for the power they used.  In 1929, this system was purchased by Utah Power and Light and they have maintained the service in Grace ever since.

By 1924, a small town consisting of thirteen cottages and two warehouses had been  built at the Grace Plant for their employees.  Three homes were also built at the Cove Plant and five homes were built at Alexander.  Over the years, Utah Power and Light has been one of the major employers in the area and at one time had 25-30 employees involved in the plants operations.  The system has been automated in recent years and its number of employees has been reduced.

The company and their employees have willingly donated their time and equipment for numerous community projects. Just recently, they installed the lighting for a new football field at the Grace High School.  Their employees are  also  active in church, school, and  civic activities.    They are a good neighbor company and an essential part of the fabric of the community.

They recently completed the process of re-licensing their facilities with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  With the current emphasis on a broader use of natural resources, they are looking at ways to better accommodate the needs of other groups who also have an interest in the river system.  One such group are the kayakers.  This is because Black Canyon, which is located between Grace and the Grace Power Plant and is the original channel for the Bear River, is rated as one of the most unique kayaking streams in the world with sections of the channel rated at Class V in difficulty. 

Recently, Utah Power hosted a group of kayakers and allowed them to negotiate the channel with varying flows of 700, 1000, and 1500 cubic feet per second.  The purpose of the exercise was to determine which level of water provided the best kayaking.  Eventually, the company may provide adequate flows of water through Black Canyon on appropriate weekends to allow  kayakers to do their thing.  The company is also involved with the Idaho Fish and Game Department in conducting studies to insure that stream flows are conducive to maintaining the Bear River as an outstanding place for fishing.

In 2006-7 they removed a dam, the viaduct and the Cove Power plant.  These were located just below the Grace Power Plant.  These changes restored normal stream flows to a large section of the Bear River and allowed for much improved fish migration and habitat.



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