Bioenergy, Geothermal, Hydropower

Hydro Research Slashed, Revolutionary Design at Risk

The program to develop a new generation of hydroelectric turbines with improved environmental performance has jeopardized by passage of the energy bill by the U.S. Congress.

WASHINGTON, DC, US, 2001-11-20 [] Legislators are being “penny wise and pound foolish,” says National Hydropower Association executive director Linda Church Ciocci, referring to the fact that other renewable technologies received increases in funding in the budget measure while hydropower suffered a 40 percent decline once monies reserved for special projects in Alaska are removed. “The key to unlocking the power of this nation’s rivers lies in providing safe and effective means for passing fish around, or through, hydropower dams,” she says. “At a time when we should be investing in clean, renewable, reliable and domestic energy technologies, Congress has turned its back on renewable energy’s leading lady.” The NHA had urged Congress to provide US$9.3 million for hydropower R&D to maintain the research needs as projected by the 1997 President’s Committee of Advisors on Science & Technology. Despite that panel’s recommendations, the program has never been fully funded and has always represented a fraction of the entire renewable energy and energy efficiency budget, she claims. Hydropower provides 10 percent of U.S. electricity and 80 percent of total renewable electricity generation in the country. The Advanced Hydropower Turbine Systems program, run by the Department of Energy, received $4 million less than Senate funding levels and was saddled with budgeting for two Alaskan development projects of $2.3 million. The remaining $3 million for the advanced turbine program is a 40 percent cut from last year’s funding. The six-year R&D effort was beginning to see results with tests at the Bonneville Dam on the Columbia River, where a turbine with advanced features reduced fish injury by 40 percent compared to traditional turbines, she explains. In addition, tests began this fall on a revolutionary turbine design that potentially could safely pass 98 to 100 percent of fish. Survival rates for turbines typically range from 85 to 95 percent. “It’s unfortunate but, without a serious commitment from both Congress and the Bush Administration in the next funding cycle, this program will just wither on the vine,” says Ciocci. “Tens of thousands of megawatts of hydroelectricity will go undeveloped, and environmental improvements will be left undone.”