The City of Rock Island purchased the Rock Island Hydroelectric Plant (formerly known as the Sears Powerhouse) equipment and leasehold rights from White Hydropower Company (WHC) in 2008 and expanded the plant capacity to 1,200 kilowatts.
Hydroelectricity is generated by the production of electrical power through the force of falling or flowing water and is the most widely used form of renewable energy. The City invested $2.2 million in the plant which included rehabilitation of two existing turbines, rehabilitation of the powerhouse, and installation of two new 300 kilowatt generators.
The hydroelectric plant was constructed in 1912 by one of the founding families of Moline and Rock Island and operated with a capacity of 1,800 kilowatts under this original ownership until approximately 1958. At that time, it was donated to Augustana College. Operations continued until about 1967 when it was donated to the State of Illinois and all the generating equipment except the turbines were removed.
In 1980, WHC, owned by Mitchell M. White, P.E. and Melba White, leased the real estate and water rights from the State of Illinois. WHC partially rehabilitated the powerhouse, rehabilitated two of the six turbines, installed generators for the two rehabilitated turbines, and began producing power again in 1985, operating with an installed capacity of 600 kilowatts.
The City’s acquisition and expansion of the plant was funded through the sale of general obligation bonds and Clean Renewable Energy Bonds. The Rock Island Hydroelectric Plant operates as an enterprise fund like the City’s water and sewer utilities. Most of its revenue (95%) is earned by selling electricity to the largest City-owned electricity users such as the water and sewage treatment plants. The remainder of the revenue (5%) is earned by selling excess electricity to MidAmerican Energy Company (MEC). All the expenses of the operation including the debt service are paid by revenue from the sale of electricity and Renewable Energy Certificates.
Until the purchase of the Rock Island Hydroelectric Plant, the City purchased all its electricity (15,300,000 kilowatt-hours per year) for its facilities, street lights, and traffic signal lights from MEC. The Rock Island Hydroelectric Plant now produces about 5,300,000 kilowatt-hours of renewable energy for City facilities (34% of City electricity consumption) and the remainder is purchased from MEC.
The Rock Island Hydroelectric Plant expansion offers significant environmental benefits for everyone. City utility customers and taxpayers will benefit directly in the future due to lower costs for the electricity needed to operate City facilities.