Camarasa

The reservoir at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. The reservoir at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
The reservoir at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.

Nothing looks out of place at the hydroelectric power plant in Camarasa. This is evident when you enter the control room and look at the panel that was originally used, as if the staff needed to leave proof that precision engineering, passion for a job well done and order have been passed down over the generations for over one hundred years. First under Riegos y Fuerza del Ebro S.A., the company that created the Barcelona Traction Light & Power Company to electrify the industrial belt of Catalonia's capital city; later within Fecsa's assets; and, since the late nineties, as part of Endesa.

On the left, the hundred-year-old Camarasa power plant is hidden in a stunning canyon in the Pyrenean massif, at the confluence of the Noguera and Segre rivers. On the right, the 92-metre high dam at the Camarasa plant was considered the highest in Europe when it was first built. On the left, the hundred-year-old Camarasa power plant is hidden in a stunning canyon in the Pyrenean massif, at the confluence of the Noguera and Segre rivers. On the right, the 92-metre high dam at the Camarasa plant was considered the highest in Europe when it was first built.
On the left, the hundred-year-old Camarasa power plant is hidden in a stunning canyon in the Pyrenean massif, at the confluence of the Noguera and Segre rivers. On the right, the 92-metre high dam at the Camarasa plant was considered the highest in Europe when it was first built. On the left, the hundred-year-old Camarasa power plant is hidden in a stunning canyon in the Pyrenean massif, at the confluence of the Noguera and Segre rivers. On the right, the 92-metre high dam at the Camarasa plant was considered the highest in Europe when it was first built.
On the left, the hundred-year-old Camarasa power plant is hidden in a stunning canyon in the Pyrenean massif, at the confluence of the Noguera and Segre rivers. On the right, the 92-metre high dam at the Camarasa plant was considered the highest in Europe when it was first built.

In a modest, functional office on the first floor, a conversation begins about the past and present of these installations, and their importance for the surrounding area. Weak morning light streams through a window where you can glimpse the mountainous gorge that encloses the plant, right at the confluence of the Segre and Noguera Pallaresa rivers. But the glass does not offer an image of the imposing dam (at 92 metres, it was once the highest in Europe) right next to it; which ensures that the complex is not engulfed by the immensity of the Pyrenean landscape.

At the head of the table sits Marc Miret Olives. Near the recorder that he has not paid attention to for quite some time. Marc is a Telecommunications Engineer and the manager of the plant. He represents the fourth generation of his family to work there. At the table you will also see his father, Miquel Miret Montané, who has retired after over four decades working within these walls. It still smells of coffee.  

Antonio Trepat, operations and maintenance technician at the plant.
Antonio Trepat, operations and maintenance technician at the plant.
Ramon Trepat, operations and maintenance technician at the plant and son of Antonio.
Ramon Trepat, operations and maintenance technician at the plant and son of Antonio.
Marc Miret, manager of the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
Marc Miret, manager of the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
Miquel Miret, retired former employee of the power station. Marc's father.
Miquel Miret, retired former employee of the power station. Marc's father.
Miquel Puig, operations and maintenance technician at the plant. Son of a former employee.
Miquel Puig, operations and maintenance technician at the plant. Son of a former employee.

"Everything has changed a lot since I joined as an apprentice here when I was 16 years old. "First of all", Miquel explains, "the amount of water. Whoever does not believe in climate change should just take look at this". This power station began to work at full capacity (it has a capacity of 52 MW divided into four generators) in January or February and did not stop until June. The discharges needed to clean the brushes took place on Sunday!

"Now" says Marc, "our production depends almost exclusively on downstream water management and the use made of it. Here it is mainly used for the irrigation of crops, so when the turbines are started depends on demand. If we are within the reservoir's levels of exploitation and the main needs I mentioned above have been covered, we can then enter the market. Obviously, the better the year in terms of water availability, the easier it will be to serve all fronts. It is the change from a productive model where the only aim was to exploit the resource, to a different model which prioritises the management of a common and increasingly scarce asset."

Detail of the control panel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. Detail of the control panel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
Detail of the control panel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.

"Before there were any thermal plants, even the frequency of the grid was regulated with this type of power station, and that meant having load peaks in just a few minutes and no one was notified", concludes Miquel.    

Antonio Trepat Solana joined the plant shortly after Miquel Miret and is still working here. He is sitting by the window and clarity shapes the boundless white beard that he often caresses in an almost unconscious gesture. And next to him he has his son, Ramón Trepat Serra, who has just got his first opportunity at Endesa with a temporary contract. Miquel Puig Alcobé is another of the technicians who are responsible today for ensuring that the operation and maintenance of the Ebro power plants remain in order. His father worked at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant and took early retirement with the arrival of the new model of work organisation in which control is remote and technicians are no longer assigned to a single plant, but rather move around according to needs. They all come from Camarasa.     

"Here we did everything. There was a workforce of 40 people. The bearings and runners were made by melting the metal, but there were also electricians, frame operators, carpenters, masons, painters, gardeners, etc.", says Antonio.

"Since I started working here, I have learned to appreciate what my father did for me", says Ramón.  

From left to right: Detail of one of the water conduits at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; turbine room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; and detail of the transformer room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. From left to right: Detail of one of the water conduits at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; turbine room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; and detail of the transformer room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
From left to right: Detail of one of the water conduits at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; turbine room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; and detail of the transformer room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. From left to right: Detail of one of the water conduits at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; turbine room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; and detail of the transformer room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
From left to right: Detail of one of the water conduits at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; turbine room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; and detail of the transformer room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. From left to right: Detail of one of the water conduits at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; turbine room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; and detail of the transformer room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
From left to right: Detail of one of the water conduits at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; turbine room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant; and detail of the transformer room at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.

With the changes in production models in the energy sector, the arrival of technology, remote operation and workforces adapted to the new requirements, the ties between the town and the plant are no longer so strong.

"If you asked a 9- or 10-year-old boy about the plant, I am convinced he would not know what to tell you", says Miquel Miret. "In another era, this was unthinkable. In our time, there were no barriers. "The townspeople used to come up here to visit. A retiree from the company came with his family, took them inside and began to greet everybody" [everyone smiles at how implausible the scene would be now]. 

Detail of the control panel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. Detail of the control panel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.
Detail of the control panel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant.

An exhibition, Camarasa 1917-1923 Temps dávenços tecnològics i lluita obrera, curated by historian Dolors Domingo, and organised by Endesa and the Town Council of Camarasa for the reservoir's 100th anniversary, rekindled the ties. One of the features of the exhibition is to explain the important role played by the workers who built the dam in achieving workers' rights, including the eight-hour working day. The seed of one of the most important workers' movements in the history of Spain emerged then, the strike at La Canadiense (the nickname given to Barcelona Traction Light & Power Company). 

Left, detail of the drainage channel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. This is where the Noguera and Segre rivers meet. On the right, detail of the old construction track dug into the rocks of the Pyrenean gorge. Left, detail of the drainage channel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. This is where the Noguera and Segre rivers meet. On the right, detail of the old construction track dug into the rocks of the Pyrenean gorge.
Left, detail of the drainage channel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. This is where the Noguera and Segre rivers meet. On the right, detail of the old construction track dug into the rocks of the Pyrenean gorge. Left, detail of the drainage channel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. This is where the Noguera and Segre rivers meet. On the right, detail of the old construction track dug into the rocks of the Pyrenean gorge.
Left, detail of the drainage channel at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant. This is where the Noguera and Segre rivers meet. On the right, detail of the old construction track dug into the rocks of the Pyrenean gorge.

"We have noticed" Marc emphasises "especially on the social media, that many people in the town shared the content of the exhibition, and said that they had been surprised by the historical significance of the Camarasa power station. They were not aware of it, and started feeling proud of the tie.

The close bond that had been sustained by an increasingly small nucleus of families has returned to the community."

The alarm on the phone rings. Time is running out. We go down the steep stairs to the main room and say goodbye. We start the car, cross the river and leave on the C-13 road to Lleida. After a few kilometres, the road stops zigzagging and the horizon flattens. The Segre follows an increasingly sharp parallel route. On both sides, there are thousands of hectares dotted with pear, apple and peach trees that drink the water powering Camarasa. The cycle closes.   

General image from one side of the 100-year-old Camarasa power station at the confluence of the Noguera and Segre rivers. In the background, the imposing wall of the plant's dam that was once the highest in Europe at 92 metres.
General image from one side of the 100-year-old Camarasa power station at the confluence of the Noguera and Segre rivers. In the background, the imposing wall of the plant's dam that was once the highest in Europe at 92 metres.

Marc Miret Olives

Manager of the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant, Catalonia.

Miquel Miret Montané

Retired former employee at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant, Catalonia.

Antonio Trepat Solana, Ramón Trepat Serra and Miquel Puig Alcobé

Operations and maintenance technicians at the Camarasa hydroelectric power plant, Catalonia.

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