Hydropower Advances Threatened by Budget Cuts

Dams and hydropower are common ways of bringing electricity to an area. But environmental concerns for fish and the need to get more power with less effort have kept engineers and scientists busy improving the technology used for hydropower facilities.

New recommendations from the Bush budget proposal to remove the Department of Energy’s (DOE) hydropower program from the budget in 2006 has caused a strong reaction from the industry. “While we understand the Administration’s desire to reduce federal spending, the decision to greatly slash, then end, the DOE hydropower program is at best penny-wise and pound-foolish,” said Linda Church Ciocci, who is the executive director of the National Hydropower Association. “This program’s progress over the past decade in developing advanced turbine technologies is about to yield significant results that will lead to more clean and inexpensive hydropower while reducing impacts on fish.” The president’s proposed 2006 budget puts the axe to hydropower with a $4.4 million cut at the DOE, an 89.7 percent reduction. Funding from the fiscal year 2005 budget allowed $4.8 million to go to the DOE hydropower program, which is a joint program between DOE and the hydropower industry that began approximately 10 years ago with matching funds from industry. The program’s general mission is to improve hydropower’s environmental performance and increase its contribution to the national energy supply. Advanced Hydropower Turbines (AHT), which are designed to improve fish passage beyond the dams where power is produced, are the main focus of DOE research and development. In addition to improving fish passage, the new turbine should increase hydropower project efficiency and result in power output increases. In the fall of 2004, Grant County PUD in the state of Washington installed an AHT at its Wanapum Dam on the Columbia River. Testing of the turbine will start this spring during juvenile salmon runs. This first run for the turbine will require analysis and possible further testing through 2007. Success in Grant County could pave the way for other projects with fish migration issues, and the AHT could practically eliminate the downstream impacts of dams from a fish passage standpoint. Since the federal government is the largest user of hydropower resources, it stands to gain significantly from the successes of the DOE program. “Quite simply, there is far too much important work to be accomplished to abandon the DOE program now. We hope Congress will restore the funding and ensure that hydropower work continues at DOE,” Ciocci said.
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