Merrill Hydro Dam crosses century mark
Last year marked 100 years of service for the Merrill Hydroelectric Dam located on the Wisconsin River, just west of the North Center Avenue bridge.
Built in 1917, the current dam was the third to be constructed in relatively the same location over the course of 47 years. The original dam, built by city father Andrew Warren in 1846, was partially destroyed as a result of a flood in 1865. The dam was rebuilt, only to be completely destroyed during what has become known as the “Great Flood of 1912” on July 24, of 1912, along with several other dams along the Wisconsin River.
The current facility has enjoyed a stable and uneventful lifespan since construction concluded in September of 1917. According to Wisconsin Public Service WPS Senior Communications Specialist Matt Cullen, the company took ownership of the dam upon expanding to the Merrill area in 1922. The original dam was constructed with two electric turbines and the company added a third in 1984.
To date, the Merrill dam is the oldest of all WPS operated dams in central Wisconsin with a peak production of 2.3 MW. The Wausau dam was completed in 1921, followed by the Jersey Dam north of Tomahawk in 1923, the Alexander Dam in 1925 and the completion of both the Tomahawk and Grandfather Falls facilities in 1938. WPS also operates hydro dams in Oneida County (Hat Rapids, 1923) and Vilas County (Otter Rapids, 1927).
The Grandfather Falls Dam maintains the highest production output of all WPS hydroelectric facilities, peaking at 17.2 MW.
The Merrill Dam is the second oldest of all WPS-operated hydro damns in its 22 county service area, behind the High Falls Dam located in Marinette County (1910).
While in its early years, the Merrill dam may have only served consumers locally, thanks to modern technology and the evolution of the Electrical Grid network “power grid,” electricity generated locally serves the entire WPS customer base, topping out at nearly 800,000 customers.
“Electricity is transferred from generation facilities such as the Merrill hydro damn, across the transmission system to substations,” Cullen explains. “Substations then reduce voltage and transfer the electricity to a distribution system, which then deliver electricity to customers in a specific area, such as a community or neighborhood.”