Perspectives: Much More than a Big Idea

This magazine is full of news about adding new hydropower capacity throughout Canada and the U.S. These new megawatts are coming from a variety of sources:

– New projects being built at pre-existing civil infrastructure;

– Existing projects being regenerated through repairs, rehabilitation and modernization; and

– Innovative applications of new technologies and systems for harnessing the plentiful ocean/tidal/instream power potential in North America.

One area of new development featured on the following pages caught my eye … that of building new hydro at existing federally owned dams.

For several years now, the hydropower industry has been telling anyone who will listen about the great opportunities for new hydropower development at existing non-powered dams. This “big idea,” as I’ll call it, makes lots of sense. In the U.S., there are about 80,000 dams. Only 3% of those dams have a power generation component. Most dams in the U.S. are impounding water for recreation, water supply and flood control. Why not also use this already harnessed water to run through a turbine to spin a generator?

While the big idea sounds simple enough, in reality it’s fraught with complications … a myriad of permits required to build at existing publicly owned infrastructure; a complicated, lengthy and expensive regulatory process; and challenges in securing financing for development (primarily because of the first two complications).

Even though there has been great interest in making the big idea a reality, not much real progress has occurred (beyond the American Municipal Power developments at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers locks and dams on the Ohio River).

Until now.

In this issue alone, you’ll find at least half a dozen examples of this progress:

Page 4: Riverbank Power breaks ground for the 7.5-MW Dorena plant, using water from the Corps’ Dorena Lake.

Page 5: Missouri River Energy Services pre-qualifies builders for the 36.4-MW Red Rock project at a Corps facility on the Des Moines River.

Page 20: 4.4-MW Jordan project begins operations at a Corps flood storage dam located in North Carolina.

Page 32: Owner proceeds with development of the 3.7-MW Gathright project at a Corps dam in Virginia.

Page 80: New owner of the 6-MW Mahoning Creek project, to be built at the Corps’ Mahoning Creek Dam in Pennsylvania, expects to begin construction this fall.

Page 81: 4-MW W. Kerr Scott, at a Corps dam on the Yadkin River in North Carolina, receives a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license.

While this progress may not sound unusually impressive or extraordinary, I will argue the progress is both unusually impressive AND extraordinary. Behind each one of these projects is thousands of hours and untold financial investment by tenacious individuals who are committed to making the big idea a reality.

This progress did not “just happen.” In each case, it has taken people … project developers, government policy-makers, federal civil servants, equipment manufacturers, financiers, and engineering and environmental consultants … willing to step outside their comfort zones, take risks, to approach their jobs differently, make compromises, and communicate in new and different ways.

Thanks to these people, building new hydro at existing dams has become much more than a big idea.

Marla J. Barnes,
Publisher and Chief Editor

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