DOE: Small plants would shoulder burden of U.S. hydro expansion

A new federal government report on hydropower ownership in the United States concludes the number of low power and small hydro plants would have to grow dramatically if there were to be a significant increase in U.S. hydroelectric capacity.

The study, by the Department of Energy’s Idaho National Laboratory, found 86 percent of the 2,388 conventional U.S. hydro facilities are low power and small hydro plants. However, they contribute only slightly more than 10 percent of total U.S. hydro capacity. The July report defines small hydro as greater than 1 MW and no more than 30 MW, and low power as less than 1 MW.

�Given the unlikelihood of the development of large hydropower projects in the present U.S. environment, hydroelectric growth is dependent upon the development of distributed generation using low power and small hydro class plants,� the report said. �For significant growth to occur, there will have to be a dramatic increase in the number of these plants and probably an accompanying increase in the number of plant owners.�

However, INL said, the large number of existing small plants indicates the hydro industry has the experience to implement distributed generation — the use of many small plants serving dispersed loads rather than a few large central generating plants feeding a transmission grid.

The report found U.S. hydro plants range from less than 100 kW to more than 6,000 MW and total 74,872 MW. They are owned by 1,134 entities in the public and private sectors.

Most plants in private hands; most capacity in public sector

Seeking an understanding of U.S. hydro plant ownership, the study found the private sector — private utilities, non-utilities, cooperatives, and industries — owns 69 percent of the 2,388 plants. However, the public sector �- federal and non-federal governmental owners �- owns 73 percent of the 74,872 MW of capacity.

Nearly 75 percent of the 1,134 plant owners own only one plant. At the other extreme, there are ten owners who own 20 or more plants, including the Corps of Engineers, Bureau of Reclamation, and Tennessee Valley Authority, and 24 owners who own ten or more plants.

Private owners that are not utilities own 38 percent of the plants, with only 4 percent of total capacity, while private utilities own 31 percent of the plants, with 24 percent of total capacity. The study found seven federal agencies own the largest fraction of total capacity �- 51 percent -� and that three of those agencies hold virtually all federal capacity. Non-federal publicly owned plants make up 24 percent of the plant population, with to 22 percent of the total capacity.

�It is noted that federal ownership of approximately half of U.S. hydroelectric capacity is unusual in the U.S. commercial power industry and is an artifact of federal power infrastructure development during the first half of the last century,� the report said.

The study found there are 411 hydro plants in California, the biggest number of plants for any one state. The number of plants in California owned by public and private sectors is about equal. The largest total capacity for any state is in Washington, 22,718 MW, where nearly all capacity is publicly owned. Private ownership is 50 percent or greater in 33 states. Ninety percent of federally owned capacity is in 13 states.

�A Study of United States Hydroelectric Plant Ownership� (INL/EXT-06-11519), by Idaho National Laboratory, a DOE laboratory operated by Battelle Energy Alliance, is on DOE’s Hydropower Program Internet site, //hydropower.inl.gov.resourceassessment.

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