By - Jim Vess

Small hydropower projects to add 330 MW of capacity in the next few years

Energize Weekly, May 29, 2019

Projects across the country are set to tap into the potential hydropower of dams not currently generating electricity with 32 dams in 12 states slated to add a total of 330 megawatts (MW) of generating capacity, according to the federal Energy Information Administration (EIA).

There are more than 90,000 dams in the U.S., but only 3 percent generate hydropower. Those hydropower dams have nearly 80,000 MW of generating capacity as of February 2019. That is an increase of about 2,000 MW since a 2012 U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) survey.

The DOE study estimated that so-called nonpowered dams (NPDs) had a potential capacity of 12,000 MW, as some of those NPDs, used for water management or navigation, are not suitable for hydroelectric generation.

“Project developers continue to pursue this potential by using existing waterway infrastructure to add hydroelectric generation capacity,” the EIA said. “The U.S. Congress passed the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which, among other provisions, supports the development of new hydroelectric resources.”

Conventional hydroelectric generating capacity has grown only modestly in recent years, making the growth in NPD generation and the upgrading of existing hydro dams more significant. While NPD generation is small on a national level, it can be “more meaningful” on a state and watershed level, the EIA said.

Ohio River projects, for example, will add 66 MW, bringing total operational capacity to 750 MW—a nearly 10 percent increase.

The Red River in Louisiana will add 49 MW of generation, a 50 percent increase, and 9 MW will be added along Pennsylvania’s Allegheny River, a 20 percent increase.

Overall, Pennsylvania is slated to add 121.3 MW of NPD, increasing its hydroelectric capacity by 12 percent. Louisiana projects will add 48.6 MW, increasing the state’s hydro capacity 20 percent. Iowa is also adding 36 MW of projects, increasing hydro generating capacity 22 percent.

For other rivers, NPDs converted to hydroelectric dams will be the first utility-scale hydroelectric plants (those with a capacity of at least one megawatt) on the river. For example, the Muskingum River in southeastern Ohio, which currently has no hydroelectric capacity, is set to add 23 MW.

Mississippi will also gain its first hydroelectric capacity with the conversion of four dams in the state’s northwest, totaling 35 MW.

Other states with NPD projects include Alaska, Texas, Alabama and West Virginia.

Rye Development, a Boston-based company specializing in “low impact hydrogeneration,” is developing 22 projects in six states, accounting for 236 MW of the planned 330 MW in the country.

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