Perspectives: Taking Care of the ‘Old Ladies’

During the keynote address of HydroVision Brasil 2012 earlier this year in Rio de Janeiro, Flavio Decat, the president of utility Eletrobras Furnas, shared a nickname the Brazilian government uses for its older existing hydro plants – ‘Old Ladies.’ Furnas owns and operates 12 hydroelectric projects with more than 9,000 MW of capacity.

In his speech, Decat described how valuable these ‘old ladies’ are to the energy sector in Brazil – where 85% of the electricity comes from hydropower. And, he advocated for continued investment in these facilities to make them even more valuable.

I recently attended PennWell’s inaugural POWER-GEN Africa/Renewable Energy World Africa event, where project rehabilitation and modernization was a hot topic. In Africa, the average age of all power plants is 30 years. One study cited in a session on the topic of hydro rehabilitation indicated there are 44 hydro plants in Africa totaling 24,000 MW that are “rehabilitation ready.” That’s a lot of ‘old ladies’ waiting for some attention!

Here in North America, we have our share of ‘old ladies.’ For example, in the fleet of hydro projects operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – the largest hydro producer in the U.S. – 90% of the projects are at least 30 years old.

We’ve known for a long time that rehabilitating/modernizing these older facilities is one of the most economical ways available to increase capacity, generation and efficiency. The June 2012 report from the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) titled “Renewable Energy Technologies: Cost Analysis Series, Volume 1: Power Sector” provides average investment costs for building new hydro as well as for adding additional capacity at existing hydropower projects. Here are the costs extracted from the report:

A couple of examples of notable ‘old ladies’ currently receiving attention from their caretakers include:

Hoover Dam – Arguably the most iconic hydro project in North America has been receiving attention from its owner the Bureau of Reclamation for years. Most recently, Reclamation awarded contracts to Andritz Hydro and Voith Hydro to supply turbine runners for five units at the 2,080-MW, 17-unit project on the Colorado River on the border of Nevada and Arizona.

Gordon M. Shrum – In Canada, provincially owned utility BC Hydro is conducting a $500 million rehabilitation of eight of the ten units at this 2,730-MW station. The hydro station, built in the 1960s, supplies about one quarter of British Columbia’s total generating capacity. The newly rehabilitated units will be operational in 2015.

Of course, hydro projects don’t have to be famous or owned by a federal or provincial government to be undergoing rehabilitation. Some less well-known projects have been recently rehabilitated with great results. Case in point: modernization of the 5-MW Boulder Canyon hydroelectric project, owned by the city of Boulder, Colo. The US$5.155 million modernization, funded in part by a $1.18 million American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, was recently completed. Although the Boulder Canyon project had operated continuously since its construction in 1910, the city said electricity production at the plant was expected to cease within five years had rehabilitation not been undertaken.

Here at Hydro Review, we salute the ongoing work across North America to take care of what we have … to make sure the ‘old ladies’ will continue to be strong contributors to the overall electric generation industry for years to come.

Marla J. Barnes,
Publisher and Chief Editor

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