Hydro Currents

Oak Ridge study identifies 12,600 MW of hydropower potential at non-powered dams

The U.S. could add 12,600 MW of hydropower capacity without building any new dams, according to a study released by Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

The study, which evaluated 80,000 existing U.S. dams, found that adding hydroelectric power-generating equipment to 54,000 non-powered dams would add 12,600 MW of renewable energy capacity to the grid. Most of the potential – 8,000 MW – is concentrated at 100 dams in the south and Midwest, the study showed.

The 10 largest non-powered dams identified in the Oak Ridge study could generate up to 3,000 MW of renewable power capacity, the study showed.

Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association, said the study “clearly shows that there is huge potential to expand hydropower in areas of the country that may not think of themselves as having renewable energy resources.”

U.S. agencies sign updated MOU on hydropower development

Jon Wellinghoff

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers signed an updated memorandum of understanding to ensure timely review of non-federal hydropower development applications.

  • “The intensified interest in developing renewable energy in this country has made hydropower an increasingly important player in the game,” FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff said. “Small hydropower development has become a highly desirable option, and today’s MOU goes a long way to moving these resources forward.”

The revised MOU provides for:

  • Early involvement of FERC and USACE staff during the pre-filing stage of licensing and the environmental review process.
  • Establishing a schedule between FERC and USACE early in the process so all applicable review and approval activities occur concurrently.
  • Sharing of administrative and technical data as necessary between FERC and USACE.
  • Establishing FERC as the lead federal agency for preparation of the environmental document, with USACE participating as a cooperating agency as needed.

New Mexico project completed with federal stimulus funds


Los Alamos County completed the installation of a new turbine at its Abiquiu hydropower project on the Rio Chama River in New Mexico with federal stimulus funding, the Department of Energy reported.

The project received a $4.5 million grant through the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. Officials said the project is the first major stimulus-funded hydropower project to reach completion.

County officials said the 3-MW turbine will increase the plant’s renewable energy generation capacity from 13.8 MW to 16.8 MW.

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee approves hydropower legislation

The Hydropower Improvement Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate on March 17. The measure passed the Senate’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee on April 12, less than a month after it was introduced.

The next step: A vote by the full Senate.

Hydropower advocates have turned their attention to the House, where they hope to have a companion bill introduced.

Jeff Wright, director of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Office of Energy Projects, said he had some concerns about the bill during testimony in a March 31 hearing of the committee.

While he concluded the measure would help realize the potential of additional hydropower, he addressed specific provisions as they would affect FERC licensing.

Among other things, the bill calls on FERC to investigate the feasibility of implementing a two-year licensing process for hydropower development at existing, non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped-storage projects.

“It is commission staff’s goal to act on all license applications as quickly as possible, and the commission has established processes that allow for great flexibility and efficiency,” Wright said. “I am thus not certain whether an additional licensing process is necessary.”

Wright said the bill would give mandatory conditioning authority to federal land management agencies. He said such agencies already have ability to impose conditions on projects through requirements for special use authorizations under the Federal Land Management and Policy Act.

“Authorizing additional mandatory conditioning authority may slow down the licensing process and result in increased potential bars to hydropower development,” he said.

Departments of Energy and Interior providing $26.6 million to develop advanced hydropower technologies

Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Department of Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced $26.6 million in funding for research and development projects to advance hydropower technology, including pumped-storage hydro.

The solicitation seeks environmentally responsible projects that increase the generation of reliable hydropower for the nation’s electricity supply.

Projects will be selected in four areas:

  • Sustainable Small Hydropower ($10.5 million awarded over 3 years)
  • Environmental Mitigation Technologies for Conventional Hydropower ($2.25 million awarded over 3 years)
  • Sustainable Pumped Storage Hydropower ($11.875 million awarded over 4 years)
  • Advanced Conventional Hydropower System Testing at a Bureau of Reclamation Facility ($2.0 million awarded over 3 years)

DOE will evaluate applications based on the metrics and guidelines published in the solicitation and will award funding on a competitive basis to a variety of projects and to technologies at various levels of development. The solicitation is issued by DOE’s Wind and Water Power Program.

Climate change report highlights impacts on water resources

The Department of Interior released a report that assesses climate change risks and how these risks could impact water operations, hydropower, flood control and fish and wildlife in the western U.S.

The report to Congress, prepared by Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation, represents the first consistent and coordinated assessment of risks to future water supplies across eight major Reclamation river basins, including the Colorado, Rio Grande and Missouri river basins, Reclamation said.

The report “will help us identify and implement appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies for sustainable water resource management,” said Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.

The report’s specific projections include:

  • a temperature increase of 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • a precipitation increase over the northwestern and north-central portions of the western United States and a decrease over the southwestern and south-central areas.
  • a decrease for almost all of the April 1st snowpack, a standard benchmark measurement used to project river basin runoff.
  • an 8 percent to 20 percent decrease in average annual stream flow in several river basins, including the Colorado, the Rio Grande and the San Joaquin.

The report notes that projected changes in temperature and precipitation are likely to impact the timing and quantity of stream flows in all western basins, which could impact water available for hydropower generation.


Reclamation report measures hydropower potential at Reclamation sites

Mike Connor

The Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation released the results of an internal study that shows the agency could generate up to 1 million megawatt-hours of electricity annually and create jobs by adding hydropower capacity to 70 Reclamation facilities.

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,” Reclamation Commissioner Mike Connor said during a conference call with reporters. “We are already starting to see interest from developers who want to develop additional hydropower.”

The Reclamation 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.

The report, Hydropower Resource Assessment at Existing Reclamation Facilities, estimates that the additional hydropower capabilities could create enough clean, renewable energy to annually power more than 85,000 households.

FERC draft EIS recommends relicensing 774.3-MW Wells

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff issued a draft environmental impact statement that recommends relicensing the 774.3-MW Wells hydroelectric project on the Columbia River in Washington.

The draft EIS, issued April 6, endorsed the relicensing proposal of licensee Douglas County Public Utility District, plus FERC staff modifications, for Wells. Although Douglas PUD does not propose new generating facilities, the district awarded a contract to Toshiba International Corp. in 2008 to rebuild and modernize nine of the project’s 10 generators.

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