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Hydropower upgrades to at average less than US$0.04/kWh – without new dams

US Energy Secretary Steven Chu has announced up to US$30.6 million in Recovery Act funding for the selection of 7 hydropower projects that modernise hydropower infrastructure by increasing efficiency and reducing environmental impacts at existing facilities. The expanded hydropower generation projects have estimated incremental costs of less than US$0.04/kWh on average.

The hydropower projects will deploy technologies such as high-efficiency, fish-friendly turbines, improved water intakes, and advanced control systems in order to increase power generation and improve environmental stewardship, according to the US Department of Energy (DoE).

“One of the best opportunities we have to increase our supply of clean energy is by bringing our hydropower systems into the 21st Century,” says Energy Secretary Chu. “With this investment, we can create jobs, help our environment and give more renewable power to our economy without building a single new dam.”

DoE sought cost-shared hydropower projects that upgrade existing hydropower facilities without requiring significant civil works modifications to dams, allowing for them to be developed quickly

The solicitation sought two classes of hydropower projects: those larger than 50 MW of installed capacity and those of 50 MW or smaller.

The hydropower projects could increase power generation by an estimated 187,000 MWh/year.

Upgrading existing hydropower facilities in this way is a very inexpensive way to provide renewable energy: the estimated cost of the added generation is less than 4 cents per kWh on average, placing incremental hydro among the most inexpensive sources of renewable energy, DoE says.

Following negotiation of final funding amounts, they hydropower projects are expected to begin in 2010.

The following hydropower projects have been selected for negotiation of awards for the amount listed:

Hydropower upgrades for projects larger than 50 MW:

  • Alabama Power Company – up to US$6m for a project in Mitchell, AL - For a project that will increase efficiency and upgrade four units at three hydroelectric plants on the Coosa River by replacing 1940s to 1960s vintage hydropower turbines with new high-efficiency stainless steel turbines and runners that maximise each unit’s ability to utilise the limited available water. Generation will increase by 36,087 MWh annually (7.3%).
  • Alcoa, Inc. – up to US$13m for a project in Robbinsville, NC - To replace four 90-year-old Francis Turbines with four new high-efficiency stainless steel hydropower turbines, generators, and transformers, providing an additional 22 MW of generating capacity at Alcoa’s Tapoco Cheoah plant. Annual generation would increase by 95,000 MWh (23% increase).
  • City of Tacoma, Department of Public Utilities - up to US$4.67m for a project in Potlatch, WA – To add two 1.8 MW Francis Turbines to the existing 81 MW Cushman No. 2 Dam, adding 23,500 MWh of annual hydropower generation (14%) and 3.6 MW of capacity. In addition, the project will incorporate an upstream fish collection pool to enable reintroduction of native fish above the dam for the first time since the 1920s.

Hydropower upgrades for projects less than or equal to 50 MW:

  • The City of Boulder, CO – up to US$1.18m for a project in Boulder, CO – To upgrade the 100-year-old Boulder Canyon Hydroelectric Project by replacing two older turbines with a single, high-efficiency unit. The new hydropower turbine would operate at a wider range of flows and higher efficiency ranges, resulting in an increase in annual generation of 11,000 MWh (30%).
  • Energy Northwest - up to US$800,000 for a project in Packwood, WA – To design, manufacture, and install a new state-of-the-art Pelton Wheel Turbine at the Packwood Lake Hydroelectric facility. The new hydropower turbine will have greater efficiency at low power operations, increasing annual generation by 5,868 MWh (6%), and will benefit the local fish population and create more sustainable habitat conditions downstream.
  • Incorporated County of Los Alamos, NM - up to US$4.56m for a hydropower project in Los Alamos, NM – To add a low flow turbine/generator to the 13.8 MW hydroelectric plant in Abiquiu, New Mexico, increasing the total plant capacity by 3 MW and allowing the dam to operate when releases are below or above the capacity of the two existing turbines. The upgrade will increase annual generation by 6,462 MWh (22%). The project’s environmental benefits include higher dissolved oxygen content in downstream water and increased minimum flows.
  • North Little Rock Electric Department - up to US$450,000 for a project in Little Rock, AR – To install an automated intake maintenance device at its 39 MW hydroelectric facility on the Arkansas River to clear debris currently obstructing the intake and allow the hydropower facility to operate consistently at near peak efficiency and significantly reduce the high cost of dredging.

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