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Kinlochleven Hydroelectric Scheme
Kinlochleven, Highland, Scotland, UK
associated engineer
P.W. & C.S. Meik
Sir Alexander Binnie
date  1905 - 1909
UK era  Modern  |  category  Power Generation  |  reference  NN187618
ICE reference number  HEW 611
This was the first major hydroelectric project in Britain, and was built by the British Aluminium Company Ltd to supply power to its smelters at Kinlochleven and later Fort William. The scheme continues to generate electricity, though the Kinlochleven smelter has closed, and the power station retains some of its original machinery.
The Loch Leven Water Power Acts of 1901 and 1904 authorised the generation of electricity for the production of aluminium in the western Scottish Highlands. The Kinlochleven Hydro-Electric Scheme harnesses water power from the western section of the Black Water chain of lochs, from Rannoch Moor in the east to Kinlochleven in the west. Work began in 1905 and was completed in 1909 at a cost of about £600,000.
The Black Water was dammed to create a 13km long reservoir drawing on a catchment area of about 14,250ha. The Blackwater Dam is the scheme's main feature. It is a mass concrete gravity structure 948.5m long and 26.2m high, and is still the longest dam in the Highlands.
The dam's cross-section was altered after it was found that the unit weight of concrete made with aggregate obtained locally was less than that used in the design calculations. Its profile was amended to give a heavier section, 18.9m wide at the base and 3m wide at the top, with a factor of safety against overturning of 2.28.
During construction, between 2,000 and 3,000 navvies laboured in rain-soaked conditions. In one 24 hour period, 142mm of rain fell at Kinlochleven, drowning the inner shell of the dam by 4.6m, though no damage was sustained.
Materials were transported to the dam site from the wharf at Loch Leven via a 10.5km long cableway driven by a 186kW Pelton wheel. It had trestles from 3m to 39.6m high set at spans varying from 30.5m to 305m. A railway between the same termini followed the general contour of the valley except for two rope inclines of 61m and 182.9m rise. The railway and the derricks at the dam were powered by electricity from a temporary hydro-electric plant provided by the contractor, Sir John Jackson Ltd.
Water from the dam was conveyed to a generating station at the head (east end) of Loch Leven through a closed concrete conduit 5.6km long, followed by six steel pipes each 990mm in diameter and 285m long. The station was equipped with 11 Pelton wheel turbines, each powering two 1MW direct current generators ó though only 10 of the turbines were usually operational at the same time. There were also two 2MW alternating current generators, giving the station a combined total power output of 24MW.
Demand for aluminium increased during World War I (1914-18) and an 8km long pipeline was built to divert additional water from Loch Eilde Mhor to Blackwater Reservoir and thence to Kinlochleven Power Station. The contractor, Balfour Beatty, used British soldiers and German prisoners of war as the labour force.
Five of the Pelton turbines were removed in 1996 to accommodate a new 10MW alternating current alternator. The remaining original generating machinery was decommissioned but conserved in situ in 2000 when two more 10MW alternating current alternators were installed.
The Kinlochleven Aluminium Smelter closed in June 2000, by which time it was the oldest and smallest in the world. Some of the smelting plantís buildings have been demolished and one has been converted for use as a mountaineering centre (the Ice Factor). The power station and remaining smelter plant are now Scheduled Monuments and Category A listed buildings.
Power generated at Kinlochleven Power Station is used by the Lochaber Aluminium Smelter (completed 1929) at Fort William, more than 15km to the north west, with any surplus being sold to the National Grid.
The hydroelectric scheme was owned and operated solely by the British Aluminium Company Ltd until 1982 when it merged with Canadian firm Alcan, forming British Alcan. It is now owned and operated by the multi-national group Rio Tinto Alcan, which as Rio Tinto acquired British Alcan in 2007.
Architect: A. Alban
Supervising engineer: H. Scott
Resident engineer: A.H. Roberts
Assistant resident engineer: William Halcrow
Contractor: Sir John Jackson Ltd
Contractor (Loch Eilde Mhor pipeline): Balfour Beatty
Contractor (jetty and water mains): Robert McAlpine & Sons
Contractor (direct current generators): Dick Kerr & Co
Research: ECPK
reference sources   CEH SHI

Kinlochleven Hydroelectric Scheme