Breaking News: Hydro Currents

Hydropower expansion could create 700,000 U.S. jobs, study shows

As many as 700,000 jobs could be created by the construction of new hydropower capacity in the U.S. by 2025, according to a new study released by the National Hydropower Association (NHA). Just 3 percent of the nation’s more than 82,000 dams have a power-generating component. The industry estimates it could add 60,000 MW of new capacity by 2025, enough to serve 17 million homes, NHA said. “That represents a tremendous amount of untapped potential in this country,” said NHA President Andrew Munro. To reach that goal, however, new policies that promote the increased use of renewable energy are needed, said Mark Garner, president and chief executive officer of Voith Hydro. “We’ve hired 190 new employees,” Garner said. “This is just the beginning of what we see as the potential.” Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell urged Congress to pass a national renewable energy standard, which would require utilities to produce a certain amount of power from renewable resources. Such a standard, Rendell said, would accelerate the development of new hydropower production in the U.S. “I looked at (Pennsylvania’s) hydro capacity and saw that it was one of the most underutilized of all our resources,” Rendell said. “I think the future of hydro is unlimited.” The new study was prepared by Navigant Consulting and commissioned by NHA. “This study confirms what our experience at Voith Hydro has already shown – investments in hydropower lead directly to good-paying, long-lasting American jobs,” Garner said. NHA Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci identified four ways that Congress can foster the development of new hydropower capacity in the U.S.: Enact a national renewable energy standard that recognizes hydropower, support long-term tax incentives that give hydro parity with other renewable resources, accelerate licensing for pumped-storage and small hydro projects, and increase funding for the research and development of new hydropower technologies. “Current hydropower capacity alone helps us avoid 225 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually, so the contributions are significant,” Ciocci said.

Hydropower receives $531 million in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds

Hydroelectric projects received about 24 percent of the $2.2 billion in Clean Renewable Energy Bonds (CREBs) recently allocated to renewable energy developers, according to the National Hydropower Association (NHA). “By providing more than $531 million in funding for hydropower projects, the federal government is supporting efforts that will create jobs and add to the country’s domestic, affordable electricity generation resources,” said Jeffrey Leahey, NHA’s senior manager of government and legal affairs. The U.S. Treasury Department allocated the bonds to more than 800 companies and cooperatives nationwide. The funding was authorized by the Energy Improvement and Extension Act of 2008 and the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. In the past, the federal bonds program often overlooked promising hydroelectric projects, Leahey said. The latest allocation was based on a pro rata basis, a change NHA had been pushing for. “NHA salutes the legislators and policymakers who have improved the CREBs program, so that it recognizes the extraordinary energy, environmental, and economic benefits that can come from hydropower,” Leahey said. The CREBs program is designed to help renewable energy developers access lower-cost credit for renewable energy projects. The bonds are tax-credit bonds, which means the company does not pay full interest. Instead, the federal government provides the company a tax credit covering 70 percent of the interest earned.

Hydro-Quebec agrees to buy NB Power for C$4.75 billion

Province-owned Hydro-Quebec, the world’s largest producer of hydropower, announced plans to purchase most of the assets of New Brunswick Power in a C$4.75 billion (US$4.45 billion) deal that would lower rates for New Brunswick customers. Hydro-Quebec owns and operates 59 hydroelectric plants. The acquisition would give Hydro-Quebec seven more hydroelectric plants, including the 672-MW Mactaquac project. Terms of the deal are set out in a memorandum of understanding signed by the premiers of both Canadian provinces. The deal includes New Brunswick’s transmission system, which extends into the state of Maine. “We have an American neighbor that needs energy, needs clean and renewable energy, and needs to obtain this energy from a reliable source, and that source is here,” said Quebec Premier Jean Charest. The deal, which is scheduled to close March 31, would eliminate New Brunswick’s C$4.75 billion debt. In addition, the utility would continue to operate as a separate utility headquartered in Fredericton, New Brunswick’s capital. “This proposed agreement is an exciting opportunity for New Brunswick, and in the public interest,” said New Brunswick Premier Shawn Graham. “Homeowners will see rates much lower than under the status quo, and we will now share Quebec’s competitive industrial rates.”

U.S. hydropower consumption increases 5.1 percent

Americans consumed more than 169 million megawatt-hours (MWh) of hydropower through July 2009, up from 161 million MWh in 2008, according to the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. Hydropower consumption in the U.S. was up 5.1 percent during the first seven months of 2009, the monthly EIA report shows. In the largest hydropower-producing states – Washington and Oregon – consumption was down slightly. Washington consumed 49.5 million MWh of hydropower during the first seven months of 2009, down from 51.8 million MWh in 2008. Oregon consumed 22 million MWh, down from 22.2 million MWh in 2008. In California, however, hydropower consumption jumped 42.1 percent compared with in 2008. Alabama recorded the biggest increase, 60.9 percent, after three years of below-average generation because of drought.

DOE allocates $30.6 million to hydroelectric projects

Up to $30.6 million in economic stimulus funds will be used to finance seven hydroelectric projects in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The additional funding means Voith Hydro, a manufacturer of hydroelectric turbines, will be able to retain 40 jobs at its manufacturing facility in York, Pa. Thanks to $13 million in stimulus funding, those employees can resume work on two replacement turbines for Alcoa Inc’s Tapoco Cheoah hydro plant in Robbinsville, N.C. Under Secretary of Energy Kristina Johnson made the announcement during a visit to Voith Hydro’s manufacturing plant in York. “We’re going to bring America back to making things in this country,” Johnson told workers assembled for the announcement on Nov. 4, 2009. The other six projects selected for the federal funding are:

    – Alabama Power Company, up to $6 million for a project in Mitchell, Ala.;
    – City of Tacoma, Department of Public Utilities, up to $4.67 million for a project in Potlatch, Wash.;
    – The City of Boulder, Colo., up to $1.18 million for a project in Boulder, Colo.;
    – Energy Northwest, up to $800,000 for a project in Packwood, Wash.;
    – Incorporated County of Los Alamos, N.M., up to $4.56 million for a project in Los Alamos, N.M.; and
    – North Little Rock Electric Department, up to $450,000 for a project in Little Rock, Ark.


Blenheim-Gilboa pumped storage-project returned to service

New York Power Authority (NYPA) President Richard M. Kessel said the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project was returned to service in November 2009 amid a major overhaul designed to extend the life of the 1,160-MW hydroelectric facility. The hydropower plant, in the Northern Catskill Mountains of New York, was shut down in September 2009 to refurbish the last of four pump-turbine generators. During the shutdown, workers replaced a spherical valve on the unit that is currently being refurbished. Three of the generating units have been returned to service as workers continue to refurbish the fourth unit, which is expected to resume service in June 2010, NYPA said. It is part of the final phase of a $135 million overhaul. “The equipment improvements at the Blenheim-Gilboa project will contribute to the continued efficiency and effectiveness of this key generating facility,” Kessel said. “The work will maximize the electricity output from the water harnessed by the project and ensure that this clean generating facility continues to provide reliable service for decades ahead.” NYPA began upgrading Blenheim-Gilboa in September 2006 when the first of the four units was shut down for refurbishing. NYPA said the improvements would allow the facility to produce more power from the same amount of water while extending reliable service.

Congress approves $50 million for waterpower research and development

Federal lawmakers were praised for allocating $50 million to the development and deployment of marine and hydrokinetic energy technologies. The allocation by Congress is $10 million higher than 2008, according to the Ocean Renewable Energy Coalition (OREC). “The increased funding from last year indicates a national interest to develop more efficient and cleaner energy options for generations to come,” said OREC President Sean O’Neill.

Idaho land agreement benefits wildlife restoration

Idaho officials and Avista Corp. agreed to a land swap intended to benefit wildlife restoration efforts and state-operated timber operations, according to Avista. The company finalized the acquisition and transfer of a 125-acre parcel of land on Upper Gold Creek in Bonner County to complete an exchange with the Idaho Department of Lands (IDL) for property along Trestle Creek that Avista can use for bull trout restoration efforts. The Trestle Creek land, identified as a critical bull trout habitat, is not well suited for IDL’s timber harvesting programs. Those programs generate revenue for state trust programs that benefit education and other areas. The agreement, approved in November 2009 by the Idaho Land Board, allowed IDL to transfer ownership of Trestle Creek lands to Avista in exchange for the Upper Gold Creek parcel. Avista plans to use the land for a bull trout protection and restoration project as part of the Clark Fork Project License and Settlement Agreement, which is a multi-stakeholder agreement for managing and protecting the area’s natural resources.

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