RC Byrd hydro project licensed at Army Corps locks and dam

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Federal hydropower regulators have issued an original license to an Ohio city to construct, operate, and maintain a 50-megawatt hydroelectric project at an existing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lock and dam site.  If developed as licensed, the City of Wadsworth, Ohio's Robert C. Byrd Hydroelectric Project will join other projects focused on adding hydroelectric generation to existing dams.

The Army Corps owns 21 locks and dams on the Ohio River, which it operates for commercial and recreational navigation.  These facilities include the RC Byrd Locks and Dam, originally built in the 1930s and renovated within the past 25 years.

On March 28, 2011, the City of Wadsworth, Ohio, applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a license to construct, operate, and maintain the Robert C. Byrd Hydroelectric Project No. 12796.  As proposed by the city, the project would include new intake and tailrace structures along with a powerhouse holding two turbine generator units with a total installed capacity of 50 megwatts, but not the existing Army Corps dam.

On August 30, 2017, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued its Order Issuing Original License for the RC Byrd Project.  The license, which authorizes the installation of 50 MW of new, renewable energy generation capacity, requires a number of measures to protect environmental resources at the project, including measures proposed by the licensee as well as additional terms and conditions developed by Commission staff and other agencies. 

According to the licensing order, the project will generate approximately 266,000 megawatt-hours per year, with a levelized annual cost of constructing and operating the project of about $40,586,280, or $152.58/MWh.  While the Commission found this to be more expensive than the cost of alternative power in the first year of licensure, the Commission also noted "that hydroelectric projects offer unique operational benefits to the electric utility system."  These ancillary service benefits "include the ability to help maintain the stability of a power system, such as by quickly adjusting power output to respond to rapid changes in system load; and to respond rapidly to a major utility system or regional blackout by providing a source of power to help restart the fossil-fuel generating stations and put them back on line."

Consistent with the Commission's general policy regarding license term for projects located on a federal dam, the Commission issued the RC Byrd Project license for a term of 50 years, the maximum allowable under the Federal Power Act.

If developed as licensed, the RC Byrd Project would be part of a trend toward adding hydroelectric generating facilities to existing dams owned by the Army Corps or other dam owners.  Congress and the Commission, as well as state agencies, have expressed support for adding hydropower to existing dams and lock structures.

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