50 years of Grande Dixence Dam

This afternoon, some 100 invited guests celebrate the 50-year history of Grande Dixence dam and inaugurate the exhibition that documents the construction of the world's highest dam. The anniversary offers the opportunity to take a look back in time and illustrate the importance of a power plant complex such as Grande Dixence for energy supplies in Switzerland today. The general public will also have an opportunity to take part in the celebrations on the Open Day, Saturday, 24 September 2011.

On 22 September 1961, exactly 50 years ago, the last bucket of cement was mixed for the crest of Grande Dixence dam, signalling an end to construction work on the world's highest dam. This afternoon, some 100 invited guests will gather at the foot of Grande Dixence to celebrate the 50th anniversary and open the historical exhibition which offers an insight into this technical masterpiece. Among the guests is Jean-Michel Cina, Head of the Canton of Valais Department for the Economy, Energy and Spatial Development, as well as officials from the municipality of Hérémence, representatives of Grande Dixence S.A. and workers who helped to build the dam.

Grande Dixence – an indispensable hydroelectric power plant Since going into operation in 1965, the Grande Dixence plant has become increasingly important for Switzerland's energy security. After several expansions and upgrades, the hydroelectric power plant today boasts a capacity of 2000 Megawatts. Grande Dixence S.A., in which Alpiq Suisse SA holds a 60 percent share alongside IWB Industrielle Werke Basel, BKW FMB Beteiligungen AG and Axpo AG, each with a 13.33 percent stake, is the largest renewable energy plant in Switzerland. The clean energy, available at any time, plays a key role in ensuring the stability of the electricity grid and meeting the growing demand for electricity. For Hans E. Schweickardt, Chairman of Grande Dixence S.A., the builders of Grande Dixence were "not just pioneers in hydroelectricity, but true visionaries who foretold the future energy policy challenges facing our country."

Opening of the historical exhibition and Open Day To celebrate the 50th anniversary in fitting style, a historical exhibition is opened in a building that was used as a first-aid station during the construction period. The exhibition highlights four main themes  – the impressive project, the difficult construction work, life on the building site, and the changing face of canton Valais. The history of the people who built Grande Dixence runs like a red thread through the exhibition.

The general public is invited to visit the exhibition during the Open Day, on 24 September 2011, or take part in one of the free guided tours inside the dam, held at half-hourly intervals between 9:00 and 18:00. The programme is rounded off with a "Verre de l’amitié" and a concert.

Grande Dixence – key events and dates

1935: Commissioning of the first dam, on which construction started in 1929.

1950: Foundation of the Grande Dixence S.A. joint-stock corporation, which was contracted to  build Grande Dixence.

1951: Start of construction work on Grande Dixence.

1961: The retaining wall is finished three years before the scheduled completion date. The first first Dixence dam is flooded with water from the new dam.

1965: Completion of all construction work on the plant (tunnels, power plants etc.).

1998: Completion of construction on the Cleuson-Dixence complex; capacity increased from 800 to 2000 MW.

2005 - 2009: Repair of the Cleuson-Dixence pressure shaft following the accident in 2000.

2010: Startup of the Cleuson-Dixence complex

Grande Dixence in figures

Construction period1951–1961
Startup1961
Height285 m
Volume400 million m3
Surface area4.04 km2
Length of reservoir5.3 km
Catchment area420 km2
Concrete used6 million m3

Capacity

2000 MW
Production2000 GWh per year 
Crest 15 m wide, 700 m long from one bank to the other 
ShareholdersAlpiq Suisse AG (60%), IWB Industrielle Werke Basel (13 1/3%), BKW FMB Beteiligungen AG (13 1/3%) und Axpo AG (13 1/3%). 

For more information on the complex and details of the Open Day, visit www.grande-dixence.ch.