Powerhouse to produce power again

Could Milford’s Pettibone Creek Powerhouse join the power grid again?


The article to the right appeared in the December 28, 2006 issue of the Milford Times.


Station may take power trip
By Aileen Wingblad
STAFF WRITER

A renewed effort to restore energy-making capabilities to the powerhouse in Central Park has emerged, thanks to new members of the Powerhouse Committee.

Judith Reiter of the Milford Historical Society and Powerhouse Committee admits that the concept of one day returning some of the original operations of the partially-renovated powerhouse was a dream that she had started to believe would never become reality. Recently, however, there's rekindled hope that the project can, indeed, be done.

Engineer steps in

One of the committee's newest members is Bill Stockhausen, a Northville resident and retired engineer. Some 24 years ago, Stockhausen restored a former flour mill in Bellevue to regain its capacity to produce hydroelectricity. He's operated it ever since, selling the energy back to Consumers Energy — and is sure the same could be done for Milford's powerhouse.

Earlier projections determined the amount of electricity that the powerhouse could possibly be equipped to produce made it economically unfeasible. Yet Stockhausen claims that the powerhouse could, in fact, be outfitted to generate enough hydroelectricity to justify outfitting the building to do so.


Reiter, of course, is thrilled the concept is again on the table.

"Yes, I am excited. This gives a real spark to the project," Reiter said. "We have people who really understand this, a resource that we didn't have before. They have a sense of how to make this happen."

Stockhausen estimates it would take about seven years of the powerhouse producing hydroelectricity to recoup the cost of the necessary building improvements to do so — which he said would likely run $100,000 to $150,000. There would be an additional fee of at least $50,000 to obtain a license to do so, as required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees hydroelectricity-producing sources.

The Powerhouse Committee is investigating the availability of grants to fund the project, he said.

Making it happen

A key use for the energy, he added, would be to run the pump house for the village water supply, which is also located in Central Park. "It would be fairly easy to do. We'd just run a line from the powerhouse to the pumphouse," Stockhausen explained.

During rainier periods, the powerhouse would likely produce more than enough energy to run the pump house, so the surplus would be routed back to DTE for credit, he added.

Though further study of the plan is needed, Stockhausen is confident it would be a definite benefit to Milford — and would complete the original intent of the powerhouse's renovation project.

"Absolutely, this is a good idea," said Stockhausen. "This is renewable energy, number one, because the fuel is free. The water is there — and it's a natural source, producing no toxins or emissions."

Joining Stockhausen's effort and sharing in his enthusiasm are fellow new committee members Melissa Morris and David Canfield — who introduced Stockhausen to the powerhouse committee, Reiter added. "They've recently come on board and see this building as an important community asset with a dual purpose," Reiter said.

One thought is to eventually lease the restored building, possibly for office use. "But if it had the dual purpose (producing energy), if would have more value, more use and draw people from a broader area," Reiter said.

Morris made contact with Reiter about four years ago to discuss the possibility that the former powerhouse could again produce electricity. A few months ago, she reconnected with Reiter with plenty of useful information.

"She did research, made contacts. And now, it's in the works," Reiter said.

Canfield agrees the project is feasible — and said Stockhausen is the person to help make it happen. "We call Bill Stockhausen 'a Renaissance Man.' He knows how to do this, he's done it already," he said. "And it will work. I have no doubt of that."

Restoration of the powerhouse — formerly known as the Pettibone Creek Hydroelectric Station — has been ongoing since 1999 when the Milford Historical Society formed a preservation committee. The building, which has been dormant since the 1970s, is one of two hydroelectric plants built in Milford in 1939 by Henry Ford to power a nearby carburetor factory. The other powerhouse was demolished in 1997.

"To get it back to generating hydroelectricity would be wonderful — Henry Ford would be smiling," Stockhausen said. "It's the right thing to do. It's a resource that's already in place. The structure's there, the works are in place — it would be a shame if it didn't happen."

Aileen Wingblad is a reporter for the Milford Times. She can be reached by phone at (248) 685-1507 ext. 22 or by e-mail at awingblad@gannett.com.