Duke celebrates 100th anniversary of station tennial

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By Nancy Parsons

GREAT FALLS - An eagle hovered above the Catawba River as a large crowd gathered to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Rocky Creek hydroelectric station on Sept 24.

The celebration was attended by past and present Duke Energy employees, town, county and state officials and others.

The Rocky Creek station is the second power plant to be built by the Southern Power Company, the predecessor of Duke Power Co. and Duke Energy.

The electrification of the Piedmont Carolinas started the transformation of a largely farming community into a region focused on textile manufacturing.

Hydroelectric generation was the catalyst for the change and the Rocky Creek station represented state-of-the-art generation technology when it went into commercial operation in 1909.

“Rocky Creek was constructed in a time that seems almost ancient by today’s standards,” said Carol Goolsby, Duke Energy’s vice-president of hydro generation.

“It means so much to us to be with those who set the legacy for us. We still carry the pride from when you were here,” Goolsby told Duke retirees at the event.

Duke Energy operates a chain of 13 hydroelectric stations and 11 lakes along the Catawba-Wateree River Basin. The Great Falls and Rocky Creek stations are the oldest.

“These hydroelectric stations have served our customers well over the years and supported our communities by providing a source of water for municipal uses, industrial development, aquatic habitat and recreation,” Goolsby said. “We hope to receive a new license for our Catawba-Wateree hydro system next year from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission so that we can continue to meet customer needs and provide significant benefits to the region.”

“There has never been a more exciting time than now for hydro because hydroelectric power is the original renewable energy in the U.S. Our hydro stations remain vital to our mix of generation in the Carolinas,” Goolsby added.

“Hydro has a great story to tell and it is just taken for granted, “Goolsby said. “And a 100-year-old plant has stories to tell.”

Goolsby said two of the four units at Rocky Creek are operational.

All of the water that comes down the creek goes over the Cedar Creek station, making the station across the river more efficient to operate, she said. The only time the Rocky Creek units run is when there is a need to move water and Cedar Creek is not operating properly, Goolsby said.

Goolsby said Duke plans to invest in repairs at Rocky Creek and make it a renewable energy facility once the new license is obtained.

She said the 100-year-old Rocky Creek station meets today’s standards of strength and stability.

“This is an exciting area,” Duke Energy District Manager Rick Jiran said. “When I think of value, what a better place to be than here. The hydro system is what made South Carolina what it is today.”

Jiran said the construction of coal and nuclear power plants brought changes but did not change the way hydro stations provide the ability to manage the system.

“Rocky Creek’s value still holds strong today and today’s team could not do what they do had the retirees not set the standard,” Jiran said.

Chester County Councilman Joe Branham, a Duke retiree on hand for the celebration, worked 32 years in retail and took early retirement in 1999 at age 55.

“Duke was my livelihood for a long time,” Branham said. “And Chester County appreciates what Duke does.”

“It if wasn’t for Duke, there would be no Great Falls,” Great Falls Mayor H.C. “Speedy” Starnes Jr. said. “And if not for Duke today, Great Falls might as well fold up. People don’t know how dependent we are on Duke.”

Great Falls hydroelectric supervisor Keith Dry led tours of the dam after the ceremony and luncheon.

Retirees share stories at event

Marion Dry worked in maintenance 23 years before retiring in 1991.

“We got along the best we could. When you’re working together with a man, you have to depend on each other,” he said.

Jerry McManus, also a maintenance worker, said he retired in 1992 after almost 30 years.

McManus performed maintenance on the waterwheels. “It was hard work,” he said.

A supervisor for 21 years, Arthur Price worked for Duke for more than 33 years.

He remembers the morning a main shaft broke and the plant flooded. The incident was a little unnerving. He said he has seen all the turbines taken out and reworked.

“I miss it,” Price said. “I spent more than half my life here.”

Howard Hodge credited Price for his work at the plant. “He did more for this plant than anyone in the last 75 years,” said Hodge, who retired in 2003.

Tom Talbert served as manager of the hydro stations and retired after 35 years. He remembers reading an entry on the log sheet from the 1916 flood that told of logs coming through the windows of the plant and water coming over the top of the dam, causing the roof of the plant to cave in.

Doug Chapman spent the last five years of his 33-year career at Rocky Creek.

He laughed as he recounted the morning he came in to start the plant. He said he stepped on a hose and it rolled under his feet. He thought it was a snake, perhaps the one he saw on the rocks every day for five years.

“We had a lot of excitement over the years,” said Milton Boyd, who took early retirement after 31 years.

Lila Jean Bailey said she was at Rocky Creek every day in the summer when she was a child. She brought lunch to her father, the late Henry Jackson Sr., who worked for Duke for 42 years and died in the plant after suffering a heart attack on Nov. 28, 1957.

“He lived and worked Duke Power,” said Bailey, whose brother, Henry Jackson Jr., also worked with Duke.

“They tell me Daddy’s spirit is still in there,” Bailey said. “They say he shuts doors and turns on the radio. I’d like to tell him they’re taking care of the plant and his spirit will be all right, for his spirit to go where he is supposed to.”