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Chu Pledges to Push Hydropower

by Staff
Hydro Currents, November 2009

Hydropower capacity in the United States could double with minimal impact to the environment, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said during a recent White House forum in Pennsylvania. Chu dismissed the notion that U.S. hydropower production has peaked. Chu said the industry could add 70,000 MW of capacity by installing more efficient turbines at existing hydroelectric projects or at dams without power components, increasing the use of pumped-storage projects, and encouraging the use of run-of-the-river turbines. "We will be pushing this," Chu said. "We're not talking about a lot of large, new reservoirs. Just work with what we have and it's a massive amount of power." Hydropower accounts for 6 percent of the U.S.'s electricity consumption and nearly 75 percent of renewable power, according to the Energy Information Administration, the statistical arm of the U.S. Department of Energy. But just 3 percent of the U.S.'s more than 82,000 hydroelectric projects generate electricity. Mark Garner, chief executive officer of Voith Hydro, said hydropower plants generate 98,000 MW of electricity and support about 300,000 jobs in the United States.

DOE offers $801 million to help fund hydropower development

Over the past several weeks, the U.S. Department of Energy announced plans to provide more than $800 million to fund the development of new hydropower capacity and other forms of renewable energy. Up to $750 million will cover the cost of loan guarantees, which could support as much as $8 billion in lending to eligible renewable energy projects. Under this solicitation, proposed borrowers won't apply directly to the DOE. Instead, they will work with lenders to meet the qualifications. DOE also is offering $37 million in economic stimulus funds to clean-energy research and development projects. Companies with less than 500 employees are eligible for the funds, which will be administered by the DOE's Small Business Innovation Research and Small Business Technology Transfer programs. The agency also announced plans to award up to $14.6 million to 22 advanced water power projects to improve the viability and performance of hydrokinetic technology and conventional hydropower plants. The funds will be distributed to projects that address five topics: hydropower grid services, marine and hydrokinetic energy conversion device or component design and development, marine and hydrokinetic site-specific environmental studies, advanced water power market acceleration analysis and assessments, and university hydropower research programs. For details on the projects selected for the negotiation of awards, see the R&D Forum department in this issue, which appears on page 68.

Obama plan directs Corps to begin study of Snake River dam removal

The Obama administration unveiled a salmon restoration plan in September 2009 that could lead to the removal of four dams on the lower Snake River. Although the proposal describes dam removal as an "action of last resort," it directs the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin studying removal of the Snake River dams. U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., said the Obama plan could lead to further job cuts and higher energy prices. "The Obama administration has put dam removal back on the table and delivered just what dam removal extremists have been demanding," said Hastings, the highest ranking Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee. American Rivers, a conservation group, said the Obama plan is similar to the controversial plan adopted by the Bush administration and does little to help restore salmon populations. The Obama plan "sets the bar so low that many Columbia and Snake River salmon and steelhead runs will remain at a high risk of extinction," said Michael Garrity, the Washington conservation director for American Rivers. The lower Snake River dams are components of the Corps' 635-MW Ice Harbor, 810-MW Little Goose, 810-MW Lower Granite, and 810-MW Lower Monumental hydroelectric projects. The Obama administration also agreed to provide an additional $40.5 million to improve the salmon habitat in Washington State's Columbia River estuary.

Reclamation to study three western river basins

The Bureau of Reclamation said it plans to launch a study of several river basins in the western United States to identify options for future water management. The new basin study program is needed because competition for sparse water supplies has heightened amid climate change, record drought, population increases and environmental concerns, said Reclamation Commissioner Michael Connor. "The Bureau of Reclamation is addressing this need by partnering with key stakeholders to conduct comprehensive studies and create basin-specific plans recommending collaborative solutions that will meet water demands and foster sustainable development," Conner said. The first three basin studies include the following: 1) The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study, 2) Yakima River Basin Study and Associated Basin Restoration Implementation Plan, and 3) Modeling for the Future of the Milk and St. Mary River System in north central and southern Montana. Altogether, the studies will cost $2.65 million. Reclamation said each study will include a projection of water supplies and demand, and an assessment of the impacts of climate change. Studies will also include an analysis of how the performance of water and power operations might change, and recommendations of how to optimize operations while recognizing environmental priorities.

Chu Pledges to Push Hydropower
Hydro Currents, November 2009

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