Farmers in Nebraska, near the turn of the 20th century, did not have enough water to keep up with increasing irrigation demands. In 1933, when the Nebraska Legislature authorized the formation of public power districts in Nebraska, several farmers and businessmen formed public power and irrigation districts. These districts built a series of reservoirs, dams and canals to deliver water to farms in Nebraska. The districts also installed hydroelectric generators to provide electrical power and planned to use the revenue to help finance and operate their irrigation projects. Several of these districts merged over the years, eventually leading to the formation of Nebraska Public Power District in 1970. Today, NPPD operates three hydroelectric generators and buys 100 percent of the output from several other hydros in the state.
North Platte Hydro – the largest NPPD-owned hydro in terms of capacity, the North Platte hydro has been operating since 1937. The hydro has two General Electric generators and two Allis Chalmers turbines that can produce 12,000 kilowatts each, for a total output of 24,000 kilowatts. The water used at the hydro comes from the North and South Platte River(s). After flowing through the hydro, the water reenters the South Platte River and powers other hydros and irrigation needs downstream. The hydro generated 175,604 MWh of electricity in 1997 surpassing the previous record, set in 1987, by 10,421 MWh.
Kearney Hydro — The Kearney hydro has been in existence since 1886 and an operational hydro since 1921, making it the oldest hydro in the state. The hydro has one Westinghouse generator which can produce 1,490 kilowatts of electricity. In 1994, the decision was made to renovate the Kearney hydro and following the rehabilitation of its generator, water turbine and control facility the hydro generated 949 MWh of electricity in 1997 after going online midyear. It will be operational for at least the next 30 years.
Spencer Hydro — Situated in northern Nebraska on the Niobrara River, the Spencer hydro has been operating since 1927. Its two Westinghouse generators have a combined maximum capacity of 3,000 kilowatts per hour. The hydro utilizes water from the Niobrara River. The Spencer hydro is the only hydroelectric plant on the Niobrara River. Spencer’s peak generation year was 1957 when it made 15,059 MWh of electricity.