Early Electrification of Buffalo: Niagara Falls Water Diversion Limitations Result in Steam Station Construction


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The diversion of water from Niagara Falls by the two power companies on the American side and four companies on the Canadian side became an environmental issue.
In 1906 Congress passed the Burton Act that limited the amount of water the American plants could divert from the Niagara River above the Falls and
limited the amount of power that could be imported from the Canadian plants. A 1910 treaty with Great Britain essentially reinforced these limits. In order to increase efficiency, the original double runner turbines in Niagara Falls Power Co. Power House 1 were replaced between 1910 and 1913 with Francis inward flow turbines and draft tubes. In the 1920’s the generators in Power House 1 were rewound for three phase 12,000 V.
Buffalo General Electric River Station
Buffalo General Electric River Station

With increased demand for power and no more available from Niagara Falls, Buffalo General Electric started construction in January 1916 of a coal fired steam generating station on the Niagara River about a mile north of the City of Buffalo.
Charles R. Huntley (1853-1926) President, Buffalo General Electric Co.
Charles R. Huntley (1853-1926) President, Buffalo General Electric Co.
Originally called the River Station it was renamed the ‘Charles R. Huntley Station’ in 1926 following the death of the Buffalo General Electric president.

The plant initially consisted of three 20,000-kW, 25-Hz, 12,000-V, 90% power factor generators placed in service in November 1916 and February and March 1917. The 1500-rpm steam turbines operated at 250 pounds-per-square-inch and 675 degrees F. There were eight stoker-fired boilers and two smokestacks. All the auxiliaries were steam operated; the fans and pumps by turbines, and the stokers by reciprocating engines. A kilowatt-hour of electricity required approximately 2.2 pounds of coal. Modern power plants require less than three-quarters of a pound of coal per kilowatt-hour.
Switchboard Panels 3/13/1917
Switchboard Panels 3/13/1917
This shows the main and auxiliary switchboard panels. The plant was connected to Terminal House A by multiple three-conductor paper-insulated lead-covered cables.

I worked at Huntley the summer of 1952 and had the Company photographer
take this photo of the turbine nameplate on Unit 1. I thought the phrase “Licensed to be used for all purposes except as a prime mover for marine and aerial craft” was quite amusing.

Over the years as the load increased additional units were added:

Unit 4 35,000 kW 90% pf December 1919

Unit 5 60,000 kW 90% pf November 1926

Unit 6 75,000 kW 90% pf November 1928

Unit 7 75,000 kW 80% pf August 1930

Huntley with Seven 25 Hz units
Huntley with Seven 25 Hz units
Four more stoker-fired boilers and an additional stack were added for Unit 4. Ten boilers and three more stacks were added for Units 5, 6 and 7. These ten boilers burned pulverized coal and were more efficient than the stoker-fired boilers; however all boilers fed a common header and steam conditions for all turbines remained at 250 pounds-per-square-inch and 675 degrees F.

In 1917 during the World War, a power shortage caused by restrictions on the export of power from Canada required the International Railway Company to curtail trolley service on the Niagara Frontier. To alleviate the shortage the IRC installed a second hand steam turbine with a 5,500-kW 3-phase 25-Hz 11,000-V generator at its steam plant. In November 1921 the increased supply of power permitted the IRC to shut down their steam plant.