A rare look inside Cowans Ford dam A rare look inside Cowans Ford dam

A rare look inside Cowans Ford dam

A once-in-a-lifetime look at the machinery that makes up the N.C. hydro station


It’s not every day we get to see the mechanics inside a hydroelectric plant. One unit at Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Station north of Charlotte, N.C., hasn’t been seen in pieces since it was first assembled in 1963.

But now we have a close-up view because technicians at Cowans Ford are in the middle of a multi-year life extension project that will keep the plant in Huntersville, N.C., running smoothly for another 50 years.


Cowans Ford is Duke Energy’s largest conventional hydro plant and can produce enough energy to power roughly 280,000 homes when energy demand is highest, on cold winter mornings and hot summer afternoons. The plant can be at 100 percent capacity in 15 minutes to meet demand.

It’s powered by four massive units that work like a sophisticated water wheel. More than 5 million gallons of water flow through each unit per minute to spin a turbine at 105.9 revolutions per minute. The turbine rotates a generator that sends energy to a transformer and, eventually, your home.

Located about 120 feet below Lake Norman, one unit stands 70 feet tall. The generator rotor alone is 30 feet across, about the length of an average yellow school bus. The turbine and generator combined weigh about 600 tons – 100 tons more than two Statues of Liberty. 

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