Many years ago I remember looking at the Electric Facilities Map in Firth's book Public Power In Nebraska, and noticed numerous triangles denoting either diesel or hydroelectric power plants. I especially took notice of one cluster south of Seward and another in north central Nebraska. While in High School my Chemistry teacher, Joe Dappen, told the class about some small hydroelectric plants on the Big Blue River west of Denton, Nebraska. I also heard small bits and pieces about hydroelectric plants near Valentine and Spencer on the Niobrara River and its tributaries. With these facts confirmed, I embarked on a life-long quest to learn about these many small hydroelectric power plants.
After a particularly disastrous day in a Synoptic Meteorology class, I went for a road trip that took me through Crete, Nebraska. Getting lost, I ended up in Wilber. I had recently read a newspaper article about a small dam there, so I went looking for it. Sure enough, down by the waste water treatment plant I found a small overflow weir, with an equally small powerhouse, stretched across the Big Blue River. I could hardly believe that small concrete building was a powerhouse! What helped give it away was a small substation on the site, and a hint given to me by a city worker at the waste water plant.
Since that time I have compiled a list of over sixty such power plants that once existed in Nebraska. Only one or two need yet to be confirmed. Some of these small commercial hydroelectric power plants only operated for a few years before being abandoned or replaced. A handful operated into the 1980s and 1990s. In 2013 only three small hydroelectric power plants operate in Nebraska at Spencer, Spalding, and Kearney. I have not included the larger hydroelectric power plants belonging to the Public Power Districts built during the 1930s, or the 50-Mw hydroelectric plant at the Kingsley Dam built in the 1980s.
These small power plants were often very simple in their construction. Some were just a step above the water powered mills they replaced. Flour millers and utility magnates alike worked to bring the promise of central station power and lighting to the small towns and cities of Nebraska during the opening decades of the Twentieth Century.