New Development: Rediscovering Hydropower

In 2008 and 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued more than 500 permits for the construction of hydropower projects in the U.S. That’s four times more than the previous two years, when the agency issued 122 permits. Licenses for 100 new hydro projects have been issued by FERC since the end of 2005.

By Russell W. Ray

In downtown Minneapolis, workers are putting the finishing touches on a new 10-MW hydroelectric project that will begin generating power early this year for customers of Xcel Energy.

The site next to the Lower Saint Anthony Falls Lock and Dam on the Mississippi River hasn’t been used to generate power since 1987, when a turn-of-the-century powerhouse failed due to sandstone erosion. Efforts to resume hydropower production with conventional technologies were deserted because the economics and technology were deemed unpractical.

Twenty-four years later, a new powerhouse equipped with 16 turbines designed for low-head sites will soon be up and running, thanks to state and federal incentives created to boost the use of renewable power.

Scores of similar projects are being pursued throughout North America, as power producers revive and revamp vintage sites originally identified for hydropower production. New tax credits, grants, and initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have prompted power producers to thoroughly evaluate the potential for boosting hydropower capacity.

In 2008 and 2009, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued more than 500 preliminary permits for the construction of hydropower projects in the U.S. During the previous two years, the agency issued 122 permits. (See Figure 1 on pg. 10)

According to FERC, the agency has issued licenses to 100 new hydropower projects since the end of 2005.

the lower saint anthony falls hydro project
The Lower Saint Anthony Falls hydro project in downtown Minneapolis was completed this month. The site hasn’t been used to generate power since 1987, when a turn-of-the-century powerhouse failed due to sandstone erosion.

“We’ve seen over the last two or three years about a 30-percent increase in the number of projects proposing new capacity,” said Ed Abrams, deputy director of the Office of Hydropower Licensing. “A lot of these are at existing federal dams.

“That’s a far cry from only a few years ago, when most of our workload was based on the relicensing of existing projects,” Abrams said.

About 130,000 sites in the U.S. could be tapped to produce another 30,000 MW of hydropower, according to a Department of Energy (DOE) study. More than half of that potential could be added to existing U.S. dams, the study found.

A study by the Electric Power Research Institute estimates that 23,000 MW, including 5,000 MW of conventional hydropower at existing non-powered dams, could be developed by 2025.

The technical potential is much greater, said Andrew Munro, president of the National Hydropower Association.

“There is about 63,000 MW of untapped technical potential at about 37,000 dams that don’t generate power in the U.S.,” Munro said. “The opportunity to double capacity is real.”

In Canada, where hydropower accounts for 60 percent of the nation’s electricity, about 50 hydropower projects are in some stage of development, including a 1,550-MW hydropower complex under construction on the Romaine River, according to the Canadian Hydropower Association. The La Romaine project along Quebec’s Lower North Shore is expected to be up and running by 2020.

In November, Emra Inc. and the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador agreed to build a C$6.2 billion hydropower project known as the Lower Churchill. The project will include new transmission linking Labrador to the island of Newfoundland and subsea transmission connecting Newfoundland to Nova Scotia.

Meanwhile, the Lower Saint Anthony Falls project in downtown Minneapolis will generate 63,000 MWh of clean power each year, enough to power 7,500 homes. Construction began in April 2009, helped by incentive payments from Xcel Energy’s Renewable Development Fund and tax credits under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

“This is an excellent example of how federal stimulus dollars can benefit from a multiplier effect when state and local partners are part of the equation,” said Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak.

The $35 million project, owned and operated by Brookfield Renewable Power, includes 16 StraflowMatrix turbine generators manufactured by Andritz Hydro. The StraflowMatrix technology is designed to generate hydropower at low-head sites using the existing dam and gate structures.

Conventional turbine technology was neither practical nor economically viable, officials said. The StraflowMatrix technology coupled with federal and state incentives improved the economics and justified construction.

The new facility will channel about 6,200 cubic feet per second of water from the Mississippi River through the 16 turbine-generators to produce power. The project created 35 jobs at the peak of construction.

The following is a sample of other hydropower projects that are in some stage of development in the U.S. and Canada.

Smithland, Meldahl and Cannelton

One of the largest deployments of new hydropower generation in the U.S. is well underway and is expected to move much closer to commercial production in 2011.

Three of six run-of-river hydroelectric plants are under construction at existing dams on the Ohio River. American Municipal Power is building the projects to increase its use of renewable power and decrease its dependency on the volatile wholesale power market.

A run-of-river facility generates power from the natural flow and elevation of a river and does not require a large impoundment of water. Altogether, the six run-of-river projects will generate up to 350-MW of clean energy.

In September, AMP began construction of the 72-MW Smithland project, which is expected to begin commercial production in 2014. The $400 million project will create between 200 and 400 jobs during construction. C.J. Mahan Construction Co. was awarded a contract to design and construct the cofferdam for the Smithland project.

“The Ohio River dams represent a valuable, largely untapped resource of renewable power,” said Marc Gerken, president and chief executive officer of AMP. “We’re proud of these projects and glad to be starting construction on the third facility.”

The other five run-of-river projects are: 105-MW Meldahl, 48-MW Robert C. Byrd, 35-MW Willow Island, 84-MW Cannelton, and 49-MW Pike Island.

Construction of Cannelton began in July 2009. Officials broke ground on Meldahl, the largest of the six projects, in May 2010. Voith Hydro will supply turbines and generators for the first four run-of-river facilities under a $420 million contract.

The $500 million Meldahl run-of-river facility near Hamilton, Ohio, is expected to begin generating power in 2014. Cofferdam construction is underway.

Hydropower “not only offers competitively priced power and further diversification, but in this region, hydro generation is far superior to other renewable generation technologies,” Gerken said.

Loring Road

In December, the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) began generating more power from a segment of its vast pipeline system, which carries drinking water to 50 communities in the Boston area.

The Loring Road hydroelectric project, equipped with a 200-kW horizontal Francis turbine, was completed in December at a water storage facility in Weston, Mass. The turbine, manufactured by The James Leffel & Co., is housed in a large underground valve chamber.

As water is distributed via pipeline from one storage tank to another storage tank, it passes through the turbine at a rate of 31 cfs. On average, the unit will produce about 1.2 million kWh a year for on-site operations. Any excess power would be sold to the local utility.

The $1.9 million project is expected to save MWRA about $150,000 a year. What’s more, the project received more than $1.5 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and a $275,000 grant from the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The total cost to MWRA: $57,000.

The drinking water is drawn from two reservoirs more than 30 miles west of Boston.

The hydro facility, officials said, will not affect the amount of water drawn from those reservoirs.

MWRA already operates two other hydroelectric facilities within its 100-mile system of tunnels and aqueducts.

The Loring Road project was certified in July 2010 by the Low Impact Hydropower Institute.

The project was granted a conduit licensing exemption from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in August 2009.


The 2.35-MW Bowersock project on the Kansas River plans to triple its capacity with a $20 million expansion that is expected to be up and running by September 2012.

Bowersock Mills & Power Co. in Lawrence, Kan., will be adding turbine generators in a new powerhouse on the north end of Bowersock Dam. The 5-MW expansion calls for the installation of four turbine-generators.

The expansion was licensed by FERC in August, just six months after the application was submitted.

The Bowersock Dam was completed in 1874 and was used to provide mechanical power for several industries in Lawrence, Kan. Justin D. Bowersock, who owned a nearby grist mill, took control of the plant after a flood destroyed the dam in 1876.

The Bowersock project is a good example of how new hydropower capacity is being developed in the U.S. Growth, experts say, will be achieved through expansions and upgrades at existing facilities and the construction of smaller projects, not the building of large dams.

Upper Toba Valley

Vancouver-based Plutonic Power and its partner, GE Energy Financial Services, plan to build two run-of-river facilities in the Upper Toba Valley, which would add 124 MW of generating capacity under a 40-year electricity purchase agreement with BC Hydro.

Transmission lines and other necessary infrastructure are already in place for the Upper Toba Valley Project, which has received its environmental assessment certificate from the province.

“Upper Toba Valley will be our third successful project, and we are very proud to be delivering shareholder value while contributing to the province’s goal of electricity self-sufficiency,” said Donald McInnes, chief executive officer of Plutonic Power.

200-kW horizontal Francis turbine
In December, this 200-kW horizontal Francis turbine was installed at a water storage facility operated by the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, which provides drinking water to 50 communities in the Boston area.

The two facilities will be built 93 miles north of Powell River and will generate 214,000 MWh of clean energy each year. The project, though, is in the early stages of development. The company is still working to secure permits, licenses and financing for the project. What’s more, it must finalize a comprehensive resource development agreement with the Klahoose First Nation.

The granting of the environmental assessment certificate represents a successful conclusion to a comprehensive assessment process that involved consultation with government agencies, public stakeholders, and the Klahoose First Nation, Plutonic said.

La Romaine

At the center of Quebec’s plan to boost export capacity to the U.S. is a 1,550-MW hydropower complex under construction on the Romaine River. The C$6.5 billion La Romaine project along Quebec’s Lower North Shore is expected to be up and running by 2020.

The project calls for the construction of four generating stations capable of producing 8 terawatt-hours a year. Most of the power will be exported to the U.S. Profits from those export sales could reach C$2 billion in the first 12 years, the province estimates.

Hydro-Quebec, the provincially owned utility, agreed to pay Alstom Hydro 70 million euro (US$98 million) to supply and install two 320-MW vertical Francis turbines and related generating equipment for the Romaine project.


The Wuskwatim Project, a 200-MW run-of-river generating station under construction on the Burntwood River in northern Manitoba, will begin generating power late in 2011, officials at Manitoba Hydro said. Construction of the C$1.3 billion project began in August 2006 and includes an earthen dam, a three-unit powerhouse, spillway, transmission lines, and a 30-mile access road.

The spillway will have three bays, each 9 meters wide and 16 meters high, and will be capable of passing a peak discharge of about 2,650 cubic meters per second. The project is being developed by the Wuskwatim Power Limited Partnership, a joint venture between Manitoba Hydro and the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. The Wuskwatim project is the first time Manioba Hydro has entered into an equity partnership with a First Nations Community on a power project.

The project stems from nearly a decade of planning, studies and negotiations between Manitoba Hydro and the Nisichawayasihk Cree Nation. The low-head design of the dam will create less than one half of a square kilometer of flooding, the least amount of flooding of any hydro project in northern Manitoba.

Russell Ray is senior associate editor of Hydro Review.

More Hydro Review Current Issue Articles
More Hydro Review Archives Issue Articles

Previous articleDual Play: Chromasun Chases Emerging Hybrid Solar Market
Next articleThe Outlook for 2011
Renewable Energy World's content team members help deliver the most comprehensive news coverage of the renewable energy industries. Based in the U.S., the UK, and South Africa, the team is comprised of editors from Clarion Energy's myriad of publications that cover the global energy industry.

No posts to display