Added Generation Without New Dams

Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Project (Hoover Dam
The 100-year-old Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Project may receive a $1.18 million upgrade.
(cc) John Brennan

U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced up to $30.6 million in Recovery Act funding for the selection of seven hydropower projects that modernize hydropower infrastructure by increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impacts at existing facilities. The expanded hydro generation projects have estimated incremental costs of less than 4 cents per kWh on average.

The selections announced today will deploy innovative technologies such as high-efficiency, fish-friendly turbines, improved water intakes, and advanced control systems in order to increase power generation and improve environmental stewardship. Under Secretary Kristina Johnson made the announcement while visiting Voith Hydro Inc.’s manufacturing plant in York, Pennsylvania.

“One of the best opportunities we have to increase our supply of clean energy is by bringing our hydropower systems into the 21st Century,” said Secretary Chu. “With this investment, we can create jobs, help our environment and give more renewable power to our economy without building a single new dam.”

DOE sought cost-shared projects that upgrade existing hydropower facilities without requiring significant civil works modifications to dams, allowing for them to be developed quickly to help create jobs and stimulate the local economy. The solicitation sought two classes of projects: those larger than 50 megawatts of installed capacity and those of 50 MW or smaller.

The selected projects will increase generation by an estimated 187,000 MWh/year, or enough to meet the annual electric usage of more than 12,000 homes. This incremental generation is virtually carbon free, and it represents a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of over 110,000 tons per year compared to electricity from the average U.S. grid. Additionally, upgrading existing hydro facilities in this way is a very inexpensive way to provide renewable energy: the estimated cost of the added generation is less than 4 cents per kWh on average, placing incremental hydro among the most inexpensive sources of renewable energy.

The following projects have been selected for negotiation of awards for the amount listed:

Hydropower Upgrades for Projects Larger than 50 Megawatts

Alabama Power Company (up to $6 million for a project in Mitchell, Alabama) – For a project that will increase efficiency and upgrade four units at three hydroelectric plants on the Coosa River by replacing 1940s to 1960s vintage turbines with new high-efficiency stainless steel turbines and runners that maximize each unit’s ability to utilize the limited available water. Generation will increase by 36,087 MWh annually (7.3% increase).

Alcoa, Inc. (up to $13 million for a project in Robbinsville, North Carolina) – To replace four 90-year-old Francis Turbines with four new high-efficiency stainless steel turbines, generators, and transformers, providing an additional 22 MW of generating capacity at Alcoa’s Tapoco Cheoah plant. Annual generation would increase by 95,000 MWh (23% increase), and the project would reduce the likelihood of an oil spill into the river with the replacement of water cooled transformers and removal of lead and asbestos from all four generating units.

City of Tacoma, Department of Public Utilities (up to $4.67 million for a project in Potlatch, Washington) – To add two 1.8 MW Francis Turbines to the existing 81 MW Cushman No. 2 Dam, adding 23,500 MWh of annual generation (14% increase) and 3.6 MW of capacity. In addition, the project will incorporate an upstream fish collection pool to enable reintroduction of native fish above the dam for the first time since the 1920s.

Hydropower Upgrades for Projects Less Than or Equal to 50 MW

The City of Boulder, CO (up to $1.18 million for a project in Boulder, Colorado) – To upgrade the 100-year-old Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Project by replacing two older turbines with a single, high-efficiency unit. The new turbine would operate at a wider range of flows and higher efficiency ranges, resulting in an increase in annual generation of 11,000 MWh (30% increase). Upgrades to wiring and removal of asbestos would reduce environmental hazards and improve safety.

Energy Northwest (up to $800,000 for a project in Packwood, Washington) – To design, manufacture, and install a new state-of-the-art Pelton Wheel Turbine at the Packwood Lake Hydroelectric facility. The new turbine will have greater efficiency at low power operations, increasing annual generation by 5,868 MWh (6% increase), and will benefit the local fish population and create more sustainable habitat conditions downstream.

Incorporated County of Los Alamos, New Mexico (up to $4.56 million for a project in Los Alamos, New Mexico) – To add a low flow turbine/generator to the 13.8 MW hydroelectric plant in Abiquiu, New Mexico, increasing the total plant capacity by 3 MW and allowing the dam to operate when releases are below or above the capacity of the two existing turbines. The upgrade will increase annual generation by 6,462 MWh (22% increase). The project’s environmental benefits include higher dissolved oxygen content in downstream water and increased minimum flows.

North Little Rock Electric Department (up to $450,000 for a project in Little Rock, Arkansas) – To install an automated intake maintenance device at its 39 MW hydroelectric facility on the Arkansas River to clear debris currently obstructing the intake and allow the facility to operate consistently at near peak efficiency and significantly reduce the high cost of dredging. Air pollution would be reduced in a non-attainment air basin as the debris has been previously burned for removal.

Following negotiation of final funding amounts, projects are expected to begin in 2010.

Read Hydropower and Energy Potential at Non-powered Dams from Amazon.