Adding hydro to Army Corps dams

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

As an energy resource, hydroelectricity has great potential, but siting and environmental concerns make building a new dam in the U.S. difficult.  A new trend of adding renewable electric generation to existing non-hydroelectric dams may help the U.S. grow its hydropower production without building new dams.

Last month the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a license for a new hydroelectric project in Vermont, the Townshend Dam Hydroelectric Project No. 13368.  The project, first proposed in 2010 by Blue Heron Hydro, LLC, involves the installation of hydroelectric turbine-generator arrays at the existing Townshend Dam on the West River near the town of Townshend, VT.  The Townshend Dam project is particularly interesting in that it represents a new model: upgrading existing dams without hydroelectric generation to be able to produce renewable electricity.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns and maintains the rock-and-earth-fill Townshend Dam, a structure 133 feet high and 1,700 feet long.  The Townshend Dam is part of a system of 14 dams that are operated to provide flood protection for the numerous communities along the Connecticut River.  In addition to flood control, the Corps operates Townshend Dam and Lake for fish and wildlife enhancement and recreation.

Blue Heron Hydro proposes to install twelve turbines and 77-kW submersible generators at the dam site, for a total of 924 kW.  As proposed, the turbines would not change the dam's current run-of-river operation but would rather divert water that currently spills over the dam to flow through the turbines, producing power.  A seasonal downstream fish passage facility would also be installed, primarily for Atlantic salmon.

FERC has now issued an original license for the project.  The license contains a variety of conditions and requirements, but grants Blue Heron Hydro the right to construct, operate, and maintain the project.

The Army Corps manages a portfolio of 693 dams, many of which do not currently have hydroelectric or hydrokinetic generation facilities installed.  Developers are exploring the opportunity to produce hydropower at many of these Army Corps sites, as well as at the thousands of other unpowered but existing dams across the country.  Will the near future bring more interest in adding hydroelectric generation to existing Army Corps dams?

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