In the six and a half years that elapsed between the groundbreaking ceremony of April, 1967 and Keowee / Toxaway’s formal dedication of October 1973, unbelievable activity took place. Central to the plan was the construction of three dams. Two of these were required to impound water that would become Lake Keowee, a body of water with a surface area of 18,400 acres at full pond and boasting a 300 mile shoreline. Of both acreage and shoreline, an estimated 75% lies within Oconee County. Elevation is 800 feet above sea level, 140 feet above neighboring Lake Hartwell.
Keowee Dam was constructed on Keowee River, near Old Pickens, just above Lake Hartwell’s full pond. The Newry Dam was constructed on Little River, near Newry, again just beyond Hartwell’s reach. Natural topography provided a situation where each of the dams created its own lake, a situation that was resolved by the construction of a connecting canal, located in the general vicinity of the Keowee Dam.
During these construction years, all ‘soon to be submerged’ basins, were cleared. Wells were filled in, obstructions smoothed out, timber as well as brush totally cleared out or burned, cemeteries relocated, buildings moved or destroyed etc.
Jocassee Dam was constructed on the Keowee River, about 13.5 miles along the thread of the old riverbed, upstream from the Keowee Dam. Lake Jocassee resulted; a paradise with 7,500 acres of surface water and elevation of 1100 feet above sea level, of which, well over half are in Oconee.
Keowee’s Hydro Station, three silo type buildings housing Babcock & Wilcox nuclear reactors and various lessor construction took place at the Keowee Dam site. Jocassee’s Pumped Storage Station, including two 33.5 foot diameter, concrete lined tunnels, completed the Jocassee site.
The project, by its 1973 dedication, was well on its way to becoming the world’s largest operating nuclear power plant, an achievement that would be reached a year later.
Bad Creek Pumped Storage Project
Duke Power’s Bad Creek Hydroelectric Station is located about eight miles north of Salem, just above the backwaters of Lake Jocassee. While it is the Company’s 27th hydrolectric station, it is the largest on the Duke system. It is also only their second pumped-storage hydro facility. Construction of the dam and hydroelectric station began in 1982, and while not originally a part of the Keowee/Toxaway Project, it’s role as one of two pumped-storage facilities fills a vital role in the overall project. The hydro station, or power house, is a marvel. Constructed inside a mountain, the station generates power as water is released from the upper storage reservoir, Bad Creek, through the station, and discharged into the lower lake, Jocassee. This is accomplished by the use of an underground tunnel, thirty feet in diameter and three-quarters of a mile long.
During off-peek hours, when demand for power is low, water is pumped from the lower reservoir back to the upper reservoir for storage and future electrical generation, hence the term ‘pump storage’. Pumped-storage-generation, albeit ingenious, was not a new concept at the time of construction. As early as 1916, Richard Pfaehler, a Prussian engineer recruited by James B. Duke, advocated a pumped-storage generating unit in what was later to become the Keowee-Toxaway Project. With Bad Creek at full pond and generating with all four units, power can be generated for twenty-four hours as the lake is drawn down 160 feet. Thirty-two hours would then be required to pump water from Jocassee back into Bad Creek, re-establishing full pond.
Due to dangers resulting from extreme fluctuations of water levels, Bad Creek is not accessible to the public, although viewing ‘vantage points’ have been established. Periodically, guided tours of the underground power plant have also been conducted.