Twin Buttes Dam and Reservoir is the primary water supply for San Angelo, Texas, a major source of irrigation for 10,000 acres of farm land, and a recreational hub for boaters and fisherman.
According to a new report by federal regulators, the reservoir and others like it could be used to serve another important purpose.
Up to 23 MW of electricity capacity could be created by adding hydropower to the dam and reservoir in west central Texas. It’s one of 70 non-powered sites operated by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation that has “reasonable potential” to produce electricity and create jobs, the report found. If hydropower were added to all 70 sites, up to 226 MW of renewable power capacity could be added to the grid, the report showed.
The sites identified in the report “demonstrate reasonable potential for being economically, financially and environmentally viable,” USBR Commissioner Mike Connor said last week during a conference call with reporters. “We are already starting to see interest from developers who want to develop additional hydropower.”
The USBR report, which evaluated 530 sites, is part of President Obama’s plan to meet 80 percent of the nation’s demand for energy with clean sources by 2035. Colorado, Utah, Montana, Texas and Arizona have the most hydropower potential, the report showed.
The report also estimates that about 1,200 public and private jobs could be created if hydropower were added to all 70 sites.
“What we’re trying to do is identify the opportunity, highlight the economic viability and then work with private developers or municipalities or other local government entities under a lease-of-power-privilege process,” Connor said.
But how effective will this report be in promoting real development of hydropower at USBR’s non-powered dams?
Until regulators shorten the licensing process for new hydropower projects, developers will continue to struggle to secure financing.
The USBR report is just the first step in the agency’s effort to assess its hydropower potential. The agency also is evaluating canals and constructed waterways to determine the hydropower potential of USBR’s low-head sites. The assessment is expected to be completed by the end of the year.
“We wouldn’t be doing a hydropower resource assessment unless we were interested in seeing that development,” said Anne Castle, assistant secretary of Water and Science at the Department of Interior, which oversees USBR.
Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association, said the USBR report is a “critical step forward” in meeting the nation’s hydropower potential.
“There is more work that needs to be done,” Ciocci said. “The numbers perhaps are lower than we anticipated. We’re hopeful that once they’ve gone back and filled in the data gaps, the numbers will grow.”
Russell Ray is senior editor of Hydro Review magazine. Russell has 11 years experience as an energy journalist, covering the oil and gas industry in Oklahoma and the growth of solar and nuclear power in Florida. He served eight years as the energy reporter for the Tulsa World. He held the same position at the Tampa Tribune for two and a half years before joining Hydro Review in 2009.
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