Aerial view of the Vydra and Čeňkova Pila small hydro power plants
Our story begins to unfold in the wildly beautiful and today practically inaccessible landscape of Šumava moors with dark peat lakes, pale skeletons of withered dwarf pines and the largest domestic population of the grouse. It is here, on the highland plateau near the country borderline, under the Bavarian giants of the Grosser Rachel (Velký Roklan, 1453 m.a.s.l.) and Lusen (Luzný, 1373 m.a.s.l.), that most of the smaller source streams feeding the two creeks – the Modravský and Roklanský creeks – rise. After they are joined, in Modrava, by a third creek, the Filipohuťský stream, they merge to form the river Vydra. Although less than 10 kilometres downstream it issues into the river Křemelná, the Vydra manages to service with its water not one but two hydro power plants along the way. One of them is the oldest energy source harnessed by the ČEZ Group, while the other is the group's most powerful small-sized hydro power plant. Is there another Czech river of which something similarly impressive may be said?
Through the Vydra Canyon from the hills down to Sušice
The aerial panorama of the landscape with the rivers Vydra and Křemelná rushing to the heart of it and with the upper reaches of the outbound river Otava, is so much more than just an aerial view of the two energy units, which, after decades of reliable operation, managed to entirely merge with the surrounding hilly landscape, indeed to become its integral part. More importantly, it is an opportunity for a detailed examination of the landscape patiently cultivated and economically harnessed by the people trying to understand it. As a result, the aerial excursion to the wild Vydra region offers not only a view of the Čeňkova Pila and Vydra power plant buildings, but also that of abandoned places where people still lived 70 years ago.
Further to the north, into the inland regions around the town of Sušice, the upper Otava stream is joined by a local road zigzagging via Rejšten, Anín and Dlouhá Ves. The eastern azimuth reveals the foot of the Huťská Hill (1187 m.a.s.l.) while further to the south, the mountain road gathers strength before it sets off to the serpentines just outside the village of Srní. In the south-east, we can see a dent produced in the wooded terrain by the Vydra riverbed approaching from Antýgl and Turner's Cottage. Directly to the west, above the power plants, you can see the Sedelský vrch (926 m.a.s.l.), with the Klostermann look-out tower on the top, covering the Sedlo storage reservoir just behind it. The river Křemelná, meandering its way from the former settlements of Stodůlky and Velký Bor, joins its forces with the river Vydra just downstream of the Čeňkova Pila power plant to give rise to the river Otava. The glades on the slopes of the Křemelná hill (1125 m.a.s.l.), taking their time getting overgrown by woods, still suggest where there were houses of the Přední Paště (Vorder Weid), Bergl, Zadní Paště (Hinter Weid) settlements pertaining to the commune of Stodůlky (Stadeln). The last settlement, still inhabited by around 2,000 permanent residents in the 1930s, formed the second largest commune in Bohemia after Prague by surface area (236 km2).
Vydra small hydro power plant intake facility in Rechle
The story of generating renewable electric energy at the Vydra hydro power station, however, begins to unfold just two kilometres downstream of the commune of Modrava, at a place called "Na Rechlích". It was here that during the construction of the Vchynicko-Tetovský Canal in the 19th century, an artificial branch of the Vydra river was created, as the original stony bed of the river rendered it impossible for wood to be floated towards the lowland in the Spring. The gradually descending canal winding around the Kostelní Hill with remnants of the Hauswald Chapel down to Mechov and on to Křemelná may be one of the most beautiful places within the entire Šumava National Park.
The Rechle itself, from the German "der Rechen" (a rake), indeed worked as a huge rake capturing the floated pieces of timber and directing them to the Vchynicko-Tetovský Canal. In its current form, it is a 72-metre-long faithful copy of a historic bridge over the river Vydra. It was built to capture the floated wood, which would then be redirected from there to the artificial bed of the canal.
Builders of the Vydra hydro power plant used the former canal as well, building a so-called intake facility within its initial stretch. To this day, the relatively unsophisticated wooden structure with only few fixtures from the late 1930s stands straddled at the outskirts of Rechle above the water of the tamed river Vydra. Fitted next to it is a milestone showing the mile zero of the Vchynicko-Tetovský Canal.
Until the 1950s, a road led through this territory, linking Rokyta and Modrava. After a new link via Antýgl was completed, the old bridge rapidly declined in importance and by the 1970s, it was a mere torso consisting of stone pillars only. A thorough renovation of Rechle had to wait until after the fall of the so-called Iron Curtain, and in 2001, the structure began to rear above the upper reaches of the river Vydra again, restored to its original beauty.
Intake facility Mossau
After a few kilometres journey in Vchynicko-Tetovský Canal reaches water near of the village Mechov (Mossau). Here stands intake facility of hydro power plant Vydra, which brings water through underground feeder with a length of 3.218 meters to a Sedlo storage reservoir.
Sedlo storage reservoir
Thanks to, among other things, the work of French prisoners-of-war, the storage reservoir near the former settlement of Sedlo at 880 m.a.s.l. was completed during the war year of 1942. The reservoir with a volume of 67,000 m3 is fed by water brought in from Mechov, from the Vchynicko-Tetovský Canal using a 3.2-km long underground feeder. The purpose of the storage reservoir is to retain water during off-peaks and to use the water during energy peaks.
The weir positioned in the circular construction inside the reservoir is fitted with a sophisticated safety device. During high water levels, therefore, the excess water may be seamlessly drained into the river Křemelná via a pipeline system . At the confluence with the river Vydra under the Čeňkova Pila power plant, all water originating from Modrava moors ends up in the same riverbed.
From the storage reservoir, the water passes through metal rakes on its way down a 1-metre-wide and half-a-kilometre-long underground canal to a structure resembling ramparts of a castle – the equalisation chamber, or the so-called Water Castle. The reinforced concrete cylinder with a diameter of 6.5 metres and height of 15 metres accommodates a fast closing device with indication and remote controls. When operation is suspended or the power plant system fails, it closes the chamber causing the level within the chamber to be equalised with that in the Sedlo storage reservoir.
It is at this precise spot that the water originating from the river Vydra for the second and the last time disappears under the ground via a steel pipeline, taking a vertiginous plunge into a 215-metre-deep abyss where the Vydra power plant engine room is situated.
Upstream of the Čeňkova Pila small hydro power plant
Light for Kašperské Hory
Hardly anybody could imagine a sawmill could be turned into a power plant. Half way through the 19th century, a prominent Prague entrepreneur, Čeněk Bubeníček, first established a sawmill and a timber storage house at a place from where timber had been floated, mainly to Dlouhá Ves. In 1908, the sawmill underwent a renovation project with three water wheels installed – two of them propelled the two types of cutters processing various types of timber, while the third was only used to energise the woodworking machines. It was initially referred to as Bubeníček's sawmill, and only later became known as Čeňkova Pila (Čeněk's Sawmill). However, technical progress went beyond that. Just before the First World War, the place, which, as a matter of fact, became a beloved spot for the composer Bedřich Smetana, became the venue for the construction of a hydro power plant, which was very modern for its time. As early as on 6 November 1912, the Marshall's office in Sušice met a request of the commune of Kašperské Hory (Bergreichenstein) to construct a facility generating electric energy from water. In a very short period of time an 8.3km-long 3-kV voltage power line was erected, using wooden poles spaced 30 metres from one another, which supplied electric power to the entire town.
The design and supply of the electric part of the machinery were ordered from Brown-BoweriWien. The equipment of the electric part of the generating set, such as the 96-kW generator, an automatic voltage controller, surcharge protection, etc. were very modern for its time. The machine part was equipped with a 125-hp horizontal Francis turbine supplied by J. M. Voith AG.
The first supply of electric power from Čeňkova Pila lighted up the bulbs in Kašperské hory on Christmas Eve 1912. Kašperské Hory then had 2 substations fitted with 30 kVA transformers 3kV/380 V. Gradually, more and more communes and solitary settlements nearby started to draw electricity generated by the new power plant – Jelenov, Kozí hřbet, Svojše, Šperlův mlýn and the Zlatý Potok mill. The residents at first did not show overwhelming confidence in the "suspicious" innovation, with only about 200 lamps connected to the grid.
The electricity consumed was not even measured at the early stages, with clients paying lump-sum amounts for each connected bulb ranging between 4 and 25 Crowns. Owners of heating appliances, then extremely rare, paid 12 Crowns for 100 W a year. After electricity meters were installed, the tariff was set to 70 hellers/kWh, while for engines, it was 10 hellers/kWh. As on 1 January 1925, as many as 4,000 lamps were already connected to the grid.
On 30 August 1912, Ignác Fux was charged with managing the Municipal Power Plant; during the 1920s he was replaced by Wenzel Wurm. The Head of Operation during the era of the First Republic earned a modest 549 Crowns a week, while at the end of the Second World War, the salary of the head of the power plant amounted to 870 Reichsmarks a month. The weekly wages of the operating staff then ranged between 20 and 32 Reichsmarks. Bosses from the ranks of the local German Šumava residents continued to run the operation of the Čeňkova Pila plant until most of the original residents were expelled in 1946.
The electric energy generated by the Čeňkova Pila plant was a significant driving force for the machinery used in the construction of the Vydra hydro power plant during 1937-42.
The far-reaching changes brought about by the Communist Revolution resulted in the Čeňkova Pila site being nationalised and reassigned to what was then the Western Bohemian Energy Works. From 1961, automation elements began to be installed, making it possible for the plant to be controlled from the Vydra Power Plant nearby. As a result, its employees took care of the comprehensive maintenance and operation of the historic equipment.
The Ministry of Culture of the Czech Republic keeps the entire Čeňkova Pila water power plant in its records of listed buildings (National Technical Monument No. 4985). Any interventions in the supply line, the building itself and its technological equipment must be approved by the competent monument preservation authorities. The last intervention into the site operation was a three-year project to replace the flumes, completed in 2010.
Interior of the storey rooms
Today's visitors must feel as if in a genuine Šumava cabin log one hundred years ago when they ascend the stairs to the first floor of the Čeňkova Pila small hydro power plant. On their left, there is the millrace feeding water to turbine; on their right, there is a cosy "parlour" with a massive floodgate wheel.
PThe original stone flume was already used at the time of Čeněk Bubeníček's sawmill in the 19th century. The millrace leads the water from the weir toward the power plant, along the initial 105 metres, before transmitting its precious cargo to the wooden millrace, so-called flume, and another 130 metres long. This creates a 10.3 metre-high slope.
Čeňkova Pila small hydro power plant engine room
The power plant building was constructed by J. Schmidt of Vimperk for 39,000 Austrian Crowns, while the technological equipment, including the 3 kVod line supplied by Brown-Boveri set the communal budget of Kašperské Hory back another 39,000 Crowns.
The single-storey engine room is now a large functional museum, where time seems to have stopped at the split of the Austrian Monarchy, yet thanks to diligent maintenance, even today, every visitor has a chance to get a firsthand impression of what power engineering was all about in the early 20th century. The equipment has been preserved in almost its original condition. It was constructed according to the preserved Brown-Boveri C 34582 scheme and included horn spark arresters and ball spark gaps with water resistors, three 3200 V static voltage meters measuring voltage against the ground and a 1.6 kVA internal consumption transformer.
The horizontal Francis turbine with an absorption capacity of 1.4 m3/s and power of 125 HP at 375 rev/min is fitted with a Voigt automatic controller. It is located in a bricked fountain adjacent to the power plant building.
A generator with a power of 96 kV (120 kVA), cos j 0.8, 21.5 A, 375 rev. /min is installed in the power plant. It was supplemented with a 3.6 kW exciter 110 V, 32 A. This was a very modern item of equipment for its time, which included, for example, an automatic rolling-contact voltage controller and top-of-the-line surge protection.
The power plant is controlled from the control room, or, alternatively, from the engine room. Inside the engine room, there are two turbosets each consisting of a horizontal 3.2 MW Francis turbine and a three-phase generator. Thanks to the horizontal arrangement, the turbine part of the set may be clearly seen directly under the floor of the main engine room.
During 2005 and 2006, the two turbines were refurbished, two new control pumping units installed, the generators of the two TGs rewound and a new plant control system installed. In January 2007, the operation of the hydro power plant was changed from flow-through to peak mode. During off-peaks, the power plant only supplies electric energy into the network provided the inflow of water into the Sedlo storage reservoir is sufficient to make that possible.
Thanks to the all-year-round operation of the machines, a stable high temperature, which never falls below 20°C, is maintained within the shop, which makes the shop an ideal place to grow coffee beans.
MVE Vydra – Inside the site
Instead of wood, water brings the energy
From 1912, for more than a quarter of the century, Čeňkova Pila had the water from the river Vydra "just for itself". In the meantime, however, an even bolder plan began to evolve. The ambition of the plan was no less than to use the water from the Vchynicko-Tetovský Wood Sailing Canal from the 19th century, which was then getting slowly overgrown, and, using several items of sophisticated machinery, to lead the water through a flume creating a gradient of more than 200 metres to the turbine blades of the brand new central hydro unit situated deep in the Vydra river valley. Despite the thickening political situation in the late 1930s, the technically complex work was successfully completed. The erratic history of the 20th century, however, meant that the project, which commenced in the Czechoslovak Republic, only began to serve its purpose in the territory of the county of Bayerische Ostmark (Landkreis Bergreichenstein), to which this part of the borderland had been assigned following the Munich Agreement.
But first things first. Following the decision to limit timber harvesting in the Šumava region, the Schwarzenberg Vchynicko-Tetovský Canal built during 1799–1801 slowly started to decline in importance. The canal was used as an alternative to the non-navigable stony Vydra riverbed between Rechle, today's Turner's Cottage and Čeňkova Pila, making it possible for wood to be floated directly to Křemelná. As the waterway was now of no use to the wood industry, its potential began to intrigue hydropower engineers. They discerned its great advantage in the fact that the river Vydra forms a large gradient in its upper reaches, and has enough water for a substantial part of the year. The construction of the power plant began in 1937 after lengthy and thorough preliminary preparations. First opened in 1939 as a flow-through facility only, the plant was only fully commissioned in 1942 after the storage reservoir was completed. The author of the design and the head of the final work inspection committee was Karel Kosek, who, before that, in the 1920s, originated the technical design of the pumped-storage power plant under the Černé Lake. The general investor in the project was the Western Bohemian Electric Works, a joint-stock company, with the project particularly benefiting from the contributions of the Chairman of the Managing Board, Mr. Ksandr.
Similarly to its older sibling, Čeňkova Pila, the Vydra power plant, too, was sensitively implanted in Šumava's landscape, to emerge eventually, thanks to its unique concept, as one of our most significant technical buildings.
The dominant element within the entire site is the engine room shop with the administrative building and the outdoor substation. Behind the site fence, there is a bridge from which a road issues towards the serpentines leading up the steep hill towards the village of Srní, situated more than 200 metres higher.
Šumava Energy information centre
Visitors to the Vydra power plant may see the permanent exhibition Šumava Energy on the history of and the present day situation in harnessing Šumava's water sources. It has been a standing part of the power plant since 15 January 1997.
Hardly any history and technology enthusiast will pass on the opportunity to see the exposition during their ramblings through the central part of the Šumava Mountains. Every year, the exhibition attracts a scarcely believable six thousand visitors. Its highlight is a landscape model of the territory extending from Modrava to the confluence of the rivers Vydra and Křemelná, with illustrative demonstrations of how the two power plants work and with historical equipment and models actively simulating the technological process. The visitors may watch some of the thematically related films and tour the Čeňkova Pila, built in 1912, now a national technical monument.
When can you visit us?
In May, on Wednesdays and Saturdays only; from 1 June to 30 September, every day except Monday. Excursions start at 9:00 a.m., 11:00 a.m., 1:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. (June-September: Tuesdays-Sundays, May, October: Wednesdays and Saturdays)
During October-May the excursion must be booked in advance
During October-April excursion are only possible for larger groups subject to advance booking.
Tel.: 376 599 237
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