New hydropower from old canals

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Innovative approaches could enable a significant increase in the production of hydroelectricity from water flowing through existing canals, conduits and major pipes owned by the U.S. federal government.  According to a recent report prepared by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, the 2012 Site Inventory and Hydropower Energy Assessment of Reclamation Owned Conduits, manmade water control structures managed by the Bureau of Reclamation have the potential to produce an additional 1.565 million MWh of electricity annually.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is a federal water management agency within the Department of the Interior, already experienced at both water management and hydroelectric generation. The Bureau has built over 600 dams and reservoirs in 17 Western states, and is the largest wholesaler of water in the country as well as the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the western United States. The Bureau's 58 powerplants produce over 40 billion kilowatt hours annually, generating nearly a billion dollars in revenue for the federal government.

Last year the Bureau of Reclamation performed a reconnaissance level assessment of the hydropower potential at 530 sites throughout Reclamation including dams, diversion dams, and some canals and tunnels. In its 2011 report, the Bureau found that 191 sites out of the 530 had some level of hydropower potential, with 70 of those sites (representing a total of 225 MW of generation capacity, or 1.2 million MWh annually) also showing some economic potential for hydropower development.

This year's report found 373 existing Bureau of Reclamation canals and conduits could be used to produce hydropower; together, they could generate an additional 365,219 megawatt-hours of hydropower annually.  Because these canals and conduits are both manmade and already existing, the development of hydroelectric generation facilities using their water may have relatively fewer adverse environmental impacts compared to building a new, traditional dam.  Congress is considering legislation to further enable the development of hydropower from these nontraditional resources, including H.R. 2842, the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011.

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