Adding Hydro at Existing Dams: Project Profiles

Development of 50 new hydro plants at existing dams in 15 states is under way. Profiles of eight of these plants provide information about who is developing these projects, the level of investment being made, and why this type of development makes sense.

Completion of the new 12-MW Jordanelle hydro plant at the 16-year-old Jordanelle Dam in Utah points to an emerging trend in the U.S. – development of new hydro facilities at existing dams. From Utah to Texas and from New York to Washington State, both public and private companies are pursuing this type of development.

This article profiles planned hydro developments in eight states, which will provide more than 200 MW of new clean, renewable electricity.


The Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD) owns and operates the new Jordanelle Dam Hydroelectric plant on the Provo River in Utah. The 12-MW plant was built at the existing Jordanelle Dam.

The 316-foot-tall dam was completed in 1992 to impound a reservoir with a capacity of 314,000 acre-feet. The goal was to provide water for CUWCD’s long-term contracts for water supply with municipalities and other water districts in Utah. The dam was built as a main feature of a larger federally sponsored water reclamation project, the Central Utah Project. The dam is owned by the U.S. government, but CUWCD, as the local sponsor, operates the project features, including Jordanelle Dam.

Before Jordanelle Dam was built, there was a hydro plant near the dam site. That facility began operating in 1909 and was decommissioned in the 1970s. Heber Light & Power, an energy services provider formed by three local communities, was the operator.

Originally, the U.S. Department of the Interior’s plan for Jordanelle Dam included a government-built hydro component. Although the hydro component was not built as part of the federal project, the dam was designed so that a hydro component could be added. In the late 1990s, Interior decided to issue a call for a non-federal entity to determine if power development at Jordanelle was feasible and could be marketed as an incidental purpose to other Central Utah Project purposes. In 1999, when Interior advertised this opportunity, CUWCD submitted a proposal in partnership with Heber Light & Power. “The CUWCD saw an opportunity to build a hydro project at a dam it already operated and develop a valuable renewable resource,” says David O. Pitcher, P.E., chief engineer for CUWCD and project manager for the hydro project.

Eventually, Interior selected the CUWCD/Heber Light & Power proposal to develop hydro generation at the dam. CUWCD spent the next five years conducting environmental, economic, and engineering studies. Following the studies and environmental record of decision in 2005, Interior approved the lease of power privilege for Jordanelle with CUWCD and Heber Light & Power.

Construction of the Jordanelle powerhouse began in September 2006; the plant came on line in July 2008. CUWCD owns and operates the plant, and sells all of the electricity to Heber Light & Power under a 40-year power purchase agreement. The project is estimated to provide an average of 39,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) each year, enough to provide energy for more than 8,000 homes.

Development cost about $21 million, according to CUWCD. Financing came from electric revenue bonds, secured by the revenue the district will receive from selling the power generated at the plant. The A1-rated bonds were sold in January 2006, and the bonded indebtedness is anticipated to be repaid within the 30-year term of the bonds.

VA Tech Hydro Canada Inc. provided turbines, generators, hydraulic power and control units, plant control system, and turbine inlet valves to CUWCD. W.W. Clyde & Co., Springville, Utah, built the reinforced concrete powerhouse and installed the equipment.

“We are pleased to commence generation of electricity by harnessing the power-generating potential of Jordanelle Dam and to offer to local residents a valuable energy source. We appreciate the unique partnership with Heber Light & Power and the Department of the Interior to develop this clean, renewable resource,” says Don Christiansen, general manager of CUWCD.

Lake Livingston

In Texas, the East Texas Electric Cooperative Inc. is moving forward with development of the 24-MW Lake Livingston facility on the Trinity River. The three-unit powerhouse will be located at Lake Livingston Dam.

The dam, built in 1969, forms Lake Livingston, which provides a major source of the water supply for the city of Houston, Texas. The Trinity River Authority of Texas operates the lake under contract with the city of Houston. In 2007, East Texas Electric Cooperative reached a memorandum of understanding with the city and Trinity River Authority, providing for a cooperative effort to develop hydropower at Lake Livingston Dam. Under the memorandum, the city and the authority will receive guaranteed annual monetary compensation in exchange for the cooperative’s right to construct power facilities and use water releases from the dam. The cooperative also agreed to indemnify the city and authority against any regulatory interference with their water rights in Lake Livingston. The hydro facility will use existing water releases from the lake to generate hydropower and will not interfere with the city of Houston’s or Trinity River Authority’s current reservoir operations or water rights.

The East Texas Electric Cooperative is made up of ten electric distribution cooperatives in eastern Texas. The goal of the cooperative is to provide low-cost, reliable power to its members. In pursuit of this goal, the cooperative studied development of a hydro plant at Lake Livingston Dam several years ago. At that time, the project was not economically feasible, says Edd Hargett, general manager of the cooperative. However, increases in energy costs, particularly natural gas, now makes the project feasible to develop.

The Lake Livingston project is expected to cost about $74 million. The cooperative has secured $10.2 million in clean renewable energy bonds (CREBs) and anticipates financing the remaining $64 million with a loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service.

The project is expected to produce 124 MWh of electricity each year. This electricity will displace energy from other resources (coal, gas, etc.) that would otherwise be used to serve load at East Texas Electric’s ten member coops. The hydroelectric facility will provide a reliable, competitively priced supply of capacity and energy that will enhance the diversity of East Texas Electric Cooperative’s existing power supply portfolio, Hargett says.

In February 2008, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the cooperative’s request to use the alternative licensing process (ALP) to seek an original license for the project. The cooperative chose the ALP because its consultants believed a license could be obtained up to a full year earlier than would be possible using the default integrated licensing process (ILP). “The ILP was designed with an eye toward major relicensings involving multiple, complex resource issues, and it’s a very effective process in those cases,” says Michael McCarty of Brickfield, Burchette, Ritts & Stone P.C., the cooperative’s licensing counsel. However, the proposed run-of-river development at Lake Livingston Dam has a discreet number of relatively straightforward resource issues, most of which involve preserving the excellent sport fishery below the dam and mitigating effects of the project’s 3-mile transmission line, McCarty says.

FERC staff held environmental scoping meetings in Livingston, Texas, in March 2008. East Texas Electric Cooperative’s consultants are conducting studies to inventory fish and other aquatic re- sources above and below the dam, acoustically monitoring fish passage through the dam’s spillway, and performing detailed water quality sampling. They also intend to model the proposed hydro facility’s effect on water quality and habitat using a modeling program developed by the Corps.

The cooperative expects to complete its studies by November 2008 and will file a license application and preliminary draft environmental assessment by the end of March 2009. East Texas Electric Cooperative hopes to receive the FERC license by the end of 2009 and begin building the power facilities in the first quarter of 2010. This would mean the project would begin commercial operation in early 2012.


Public Utility District (PUD) No. 1 of Okanogan County, Wash., is pursuing development of a new 9-MW hydro plant at the existing Enloe Dam on the Similkameen River in eastern Washington State.

The 54-foot-tall, 315-foot-long concrete arch gravity dam was built in 1920 by the Okanogan Valley Power Company to impound water for a hydroelectric plant. The plant was completed in 1923 and Okanogan County PUD acquired the facilities in 1942. The PUD ceased operation of the plant in July 1958 because completion of a new high-voltage transmission line brought less expensive hydropower to Okanogan County. Since then, the plant has set dormant.

This is not the first time the PUD has pursued a license for the Enloe project. After a rapid increase in energy prices in the late 1970s, the PUD filed an application for a license in 1981. The license was issued in 1983 but rescinded at the PUD’s request in 1986. The PUD filed another license application with FERC in 1991. In 1996, FERC issued a license for a 4.1-MW project, but this license was stayed at the PUD’s request. In February 2000, FERC rescinded this license. On both occasions – 1986 and 2000 – the license was rescinded because of ongoing concerns about project costs and disagreements with respect to upstream anadromous fish passage at Enloe Dam.

Through discussions with agencies, tribes, and other interested stakeholders, Okanogan County PUD believes a regional consensus exists to support a partnership to enhance fisheries resources in the basin without the need to construct upstream fish passage facilities at the new hydro project. The Canadian government and Canadian tribes have been in opposition to fish passage at the dam, which would allow anadromous fish to be introduced into Canadian waters and potentially introduce diseases to local and native fish populations.

In January 2005, the PUD filed an application with FERC for a preliminary permit to study development of a hydro plant. In September 2005, Okanogan County PUD received the preliminary permit. After completing various studies, the PUD completed its draft license application in November 2007. Okanogan County PUD anticipates filing an application for a license to build the facility by the end of 2008, says Dan Boettger, the PUD’s director of regulatory and environmental affairs.

The facility would consist of a new powerhouse, intake, headrace, penstocks, and tailrace channel.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers built Mahoning Creek Dam in Pennsylvania in 1941. Developer Advanced Hydro Solutions wants to make use of an existing power conduit in the dam to install a 6-MW hydro facility.
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Construction could begin in early 2012, with the project completed in late 2013. This schedule assumes that the FERC license application is accepted in early 2009 and that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) is completed in about one year (by spring 2010). The PUD’s schedule is based on a traditional design-bid-build approach. However, Okanogan County PUD may choose to construct the project under a design-build approach, which would help condense the process.

The PUD anticipates development of the Enloe plant will cost $31 million, which will be financed through the sale of 40-year municipal revenue bonds.

The PUD plans to use the electricity generated at the project, estimated to be 45,000 MWh a year, to meet customer demand. The project will provide for up to 5 percent of the PUD’s total load. It could serve about 40 percent of the load in the Oroville area and help maintain Okanogan County PUD’s low cost of service with a stable resource that will limit customers’ exposure to volatile power prices.

The PUD anticipates it can generate electricity at Enloe for about 5.8 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), Boettger says. Compared with the cost of the next lowest-cost renewable generation option – wind – at 10 cents per kWh, Enloe is an attractive option, he says.

Jordan Dam

Hydro Matrix Partnership Ltd. is developing the 4.4-MW Jordan Dam project on the Haw River in North Carolina. This project is being built at the Corps’ B. Everett Jordan Dam. The Corps built the 113-foot-high dam in 1975 for flood control and water supply.

Hydro Matrix Partnership – jointly owned by WV Hydro and Sorenson Engineering Inc. – began pursuing development of a hydro plant at the dam in the mid-1990s and received a FERC license in 1997. However, power rates at that time did not make the project economically feasible.

Today, though, the situation is much different, owing to a combination of factors, says James B. Price, president of WV Hydro. First, the federal economic stimulus package Congress passed in January 2008 allows accelerated depreciation for expenses of up to 50 percent of the project cost. This allows a tax deduction of half of the project cost in the first year, rather than depreciated over 14 years. Second, the state of North Carolina, where the project will be built, recently enacted renewable portfolio standards that include hydro and will result in utilities purchasing renewable energy certificates. Third, power rates in North Carolina have risen considerably, increasing about 17 percent in the past two years.

The project’s design features a modular turbine concept that does not require construction of a powerhouse. Instead, Hydro Matrix will build two steel structures on the dam’s intake tower to each house a turbine and a generator. Water from near the lake surface that normally goes into the intake tower will first enter the steel structures and pass through the turbines, and then through the intake tower and into the river downstream. This arrangement has been used at one other U.S. dam, the 3-MW Colebrook facility in Connecticut.

Construction of the Jordan Dam project was expected to begin in June 2008 and to be completed by mid-2009, says Hydro Matrix Partnership. The company plans to sell the energy produced to Progress Energy under a standard contract.

Hydro Matrix estimates construction costs at about $4.5 million, which will be financed using personally secured loans.

Middle Mohawk

Albany Engineering Corporation expects to begin construction of the 45-MW Middle Mohawk project on the Mohawk River in 2010. This project will consist of a series of powerhouses built at eight existing dams located at Locks 8 through 15, which are owned by New York State Canal Corporation. These dams are between 8 and 15 feet high and were built in 1915 to improve navigation on the Erie Canal.

The dams are referred to as “moveable dams” and comprise steel lift gates that are raised out of the water during the winter months to allow for ice passage. Albany Engineering is developing a standard design for a floating “moveable” powerhouse, one or more of which will be installed at each development. The moveable steel powerhouses can be ballasted and floated for installation and removal. They will be moved into position during the navigation season when the moveable dams are lowered and attached to the existing dams. Each powerhouse consists of a fish screen, nine 330-kW submersible turbine-generator units, and an upstream fish ladder. The powerhouses will be connected by cable to the switchgear and control building located adjacent to the dams.

Combined, the eight Middle Mohawk developments are expected to produce about 100,000 MWh of electricity each year, to be sold into the New York Independent System Operator market.

Other companies have studied hydro development at these dams in the past but could not work out the economics, says James A. Besha, P.E., president of Albany Engineering. Today, though, with increasing power rates, combined with the standardized prefabricated powerhouse design, the project is feasible, Besha says.

The Chester Diversion Dam on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho is the proposed site for a 3.3-MW powerhouse.
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Albany Engineering is completing the necessary water quality, archaeological, and aesthetics studies under a FERC preliminary permit and plans to submit a draft license application in the fall of 2008. The project will be licensed using FERC traditional licensing process.

Besha says his company will finance development of the $35 million project.


The city of Hamilton, Ohio, is pursuing development of the 105-MW Meldahl project on the Ohio River in Kentucky. This project is to be built at the Corps’ Captain Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam. The Corps completed the dam in 1964 to improve navigation on the river.

In 1995, FERC awarded a license for development of the site to the city of Augusta, Ky. However, Augusta was not able to develop the site and FERC terminated the license.

The city of Hamilton received a 50-year FERC license in June 2008, says Michael R. Perry, director of the city’s electrical department. The city anticipates beginning construction in the spring of 2009.

The city will own the project jointly with American Municipal Power-Ohio Inc. (AMP-Ohio), which represents 122 municipal utilities in six states. The city’s share of the project will provide about 265,000 MWh of electricity a year to meet municipal needs.

The city believes in green power, Perry says. When Meldahl is complete, about 65 percent of the city’s electricity will come from hydro. (The city already owns and operates the 70-MW Greenup project, also on the Ohio River at a Corps dam.) Perry says hydro helps keep electricity rates stable for Hamilton city residents at a time when coal and gas prices are volatile and increasing.

Mahoning Creek

Ohio-based developer Advanced Hydro Solutions is working to develop a 6-MW powerhouse at the Corps’ Mahoning Creek Dam in western Pennsylvania. This 162-foot-high dam was built in 1941 to provide flood control. When the Corps built the dam, it incorporated a 9-foot-diameter power conduit, anticipating the possibility of adding a hydroelectric component in the future.

In May 1990, FERC issued a license to Mahoning Hydro Associates to build a facility at the site. However, that company surrendered the license because it could not get a sufficient power price to make the project economically feasible.

Advanced Hydro Solutions began investigating the site in 2004. Using FERC’s integrated licensing process (ILP), the company has completed all studies except for the recreation and fish entrainment studies, which are expected to be complete in 2008. Discussions are under way with the Corps for the construction and operation of the hydro facility. Advanced Hydro says it plans to file a draft license application by the fourth quarter of 2008. Construction is anticipated to begin in late 2009.

M. Clifford Phillips, chief financial officer for Advanced Hydro Solutions, says the fact that Pennsylvania has a renewable portfolio standard that includes hydro aided in making development of the Mahoning Creek project more economically feasible. He says the state sets a higher value for green, renewable energy than it does for other energy sources. Advanced Hydro Solutions hopes to sell the electricity produced by the Mahoning Creek project to a utility in Pennsylvania or within the Pennsylvania/Jersey/Maryland (PJM) market that is seeking to meet its renewable portfolio standard or other green energy initiatives.

Advanced Hydro Solutions is funding development of the $10 million project with a combination of private equity and commercial debt. In addition, the company has applied for support from the Sustainable Energy Funds of Pennsylvania – a group of funds established under state deregulation to promote the development and use of renewable energy and clean energy technologies.

Chester Diversion

Symbiotics LLC hopes to build the 3.3-MW Chester Diversion project at the Chester Diversion Dam on the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. This dam, now owned and operated by the Fremont Madison Irrigation District, was built by Reclamation in 1938. Symbiotics began investigating the possibility of installing a hydro facility at the Chester Diversion Dam in 2001 and filed a license application with FERC in 2004. Upon receipt of a FERC license, Symbiotics will issue a contract for the turbine supplier and begin construction.

David K. Boyter, executive director of strategy for Symbiotics, says this development site is especially attractive for two reasons. First, the dam is near one of Symbiotics’ offices. This makes it convenient for company personnel to regularly travel to the site. Second, Symbiotics completed the transfer of ownership of the dam from Reclamation to Fremont Madison Irrigation District, on behalf of the district. Because of this work, Symbiotics and the irrigation district were familiar with one another.

This article was compiled by the editorial staff of Hydro Review. Sources of information include HCI Publications’ Internet news service, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website, and communication with project developers.

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