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Posted 10/21/2016

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By Mark Rankin
Nashville District Public Affairs

RACOON MOUNTAIN, Tenn. (Oct. 20, 2016) – State and Federal agency representatives that make up the Tennessee Silver Jacket program toured the Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Facility just outside of Chattanooga, Tenn., Oct. 19.

Tennessee Valley Authority members hosted the group, which requested to visit the unique state-of-the art hydropower facility during their scheduled quarterly meeting held in Chattanooga. 

“This is a great opportunity for many of us to see a pump storage facility, how it works and how it  differs from Corps hydropower facilities and equipment,” said Lacy Thomason, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Nashville District, Planning Branch, project manager.

Fil Martinez, Raccoon Mountain Facility hydro operator, Beth Parton, Raccoon Mountain Facility, plant manager, and Glen Hearn, Raccoon Mountain Facility, maintenance operator met the group provided the group, with a safety brief, and overview about the facilities unique mission.

The Raccoon Mountain Visitor Center reopened in August 2016 to the public after nearly two years of being closed for an electrical cable upgrade project and elevator modifications.  

“Many people don’t realize that the visitor center is a working part of the facility, but it is,” said Parton. “Some modifications included several thousand feet of new electrical cable through the center and down the elevator shaft to the generators 1,500 feet below.”

Martinez provided an introduction of maintenance tools and gear used at the power plant.  Parton also described the day-to-day power plant operations and the function of the four large General Electric generators used for hydro power generation. 

Parton, Martinez and Hearn split the group into three smaller groups and led them into an elevator, and down 38 floors into the subterranean power plant.  They explained the control room and generator functions.  The group witnessed the operation of the turbine shaft and walked over four large color-coded rotator assemblies. 

Parton explained that the Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant keeps TVA power flowing steadily whatever the power demand.  She said in the 1960s, the Valley area was growing quickly and more consumers began purchasing modern appliances.  As a result, demand on the electrical grid varied wildly.   Engineers needed a way to store energy so that they could provide it easily during peak demand times. 

“TVA’s solution was Raccoon Mountain Pumped Storage Plant,” said Parton.  “Engineers set about finding a way to store energy so that they could call on it when needed—at peak times.”

The participants learned that one way of doing this was to pump additional water behind a dam and hold its potential energy there until needed.  But in the late 1950s, TVA experimented with the idea on a small scale at the Hiwassee Dam in North Carolina.  There it employed an energy-generating turbine that was run in reverse during low-demand hours and pumped water below the dam into the upper reservoir for release during high-demand hours.   

Paton said the facility is unique because it has a large 500-acre lake hollowed out at the top of the mountain and a 1,000-foot tunnel drilled into the mountain.  Much like a modern-day hydropower plant, four turbines were installed within the mountain in a subterranean pump house, generating electricity from water plummeting down to the drive generators in the mountain's underground power plant and then released into the Nick jack Reservoir.  

With its more than 1,600 megawatts of capacity, the plant generates 14 times more power than nearby TVA operated Chickamauga Dam. 

Shannon Williams, U.S. Geological Survey, hydrologist, said the tour is a great experience for attendees to look closely at the equipment used during operations and to have an opportunity to ask questions.

“This is an excellent and well-kept facility,” said Williams.  “This facility is larger than I expected and it looks great for its age and TVA has taken very good care of it.”

After a tour of the power plant, Martinez guided the group down winding stairs and watched the shafts turn rapidly churning large amounts of water. 

“I think this is a really cool facility,” said Stephanie Owen, an economist with the Nashville District.  She said she’s very appreciative that the group was given the opportunity to take a look at the inside of the power plant up close and observe the need for a facility like this.

“This tour was great,” said Owen.  “It brings to life the things we talk about at our Corps offices, in conferences, and helps me understand our mission.”

Thomason said it was good for the group to see the power plant, and get a feel for how TVA uses the Tennessee River as a power source.  She also explained that the Silver Jackets group meets quarterly to discuss and maintain partnerships and facilitates communication.    

Silver Jackets teams throughout the states bring together multiple state, federal, and sometimes tribal and local agencies to learn from one another in reducing flood risk and other natural disasters.  By working together.  The teams enhance response and recovery efforts when events do occur.

The group listened and asked good questions, said Martinez. “It is good to see their concern for the facilities operation, equipment improvements, and how we maintain it,” he added.  

“We enjoy it when groups want to tour our facilities and take interest in our dams,” said Martinez. “Our powerhouse is always busy with projects and we enjoy and encourage school groups and other interests groups to call or stop by our visitor’s center to schedule a tour.”

The exchange was a valuable continuation of the agencies’ initiative to share information about infrastructure development and maintenance, according to Williams.

The Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant tour was coordinated through TVA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to share engineering knowledge and technology for meeting attendees.

State agencies involved in Silver Jackets include TEMA, Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, Tennessee Department of Transportation, Tennessee Department of Environmental Conservation and Geographic Information Systems Servicers.  Federal partners include the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District, Tennessee Valley Authority, Federal Emergency Management Agency Region IV, Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey and National Weather Service.

Fast Facts about the Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Facility

•Visitor Center Hours—Daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET from April through October; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. November through March. It is closed for major holidays and during adverse weather events.

•Facility Construction—Began in 1970 and completed in 1978

•Reservoir—Holds 107+ billion gallons and takes 28 hours to fill up

•Dam—8,500-foot-long; largest rock-fill dam ever built by TVA

•Intake tower—230 ft. high; 80 ft. taller than the Statue of Liberty

•Electrical Generation—1,600 Mega Watts or enough to power 935,000 homes


•Recreation Trails—30 miles of biking and hiking trails

For more information about The Raccoon Mountain Pumped-Storage Plant Tours or to schedule a group tour visit www.tva.gov.

For more news, updates and information please follow the Nashville District on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/nashvillecorps.  The Nashville District is also on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nashvillecorps.

Efficiency electrical generation Energy Environmental Stewardship Hydropower Rehabilitation Program Hydropower Units Nashville District Raccoon Mountain silver jackets Tennessee River tennessee valley authority U.S. Army Corps of Engineers USACE