Feds See Expanded Role for
by Jonathan Hiskes
New power sources could create 1,200 jobs, Bureau of Reclamation says.
When conservationists talk about hydropower, they're usually talking about removing Cold War-era dams that devastated salmon populations and other wildlife.
When clean-energy execs talk about hydropower, they're usually grumbling about the super-cheap source of electricity that puts Pacific Northwest wind, solar and biomass at a disadvantage.
When the federal Bureau of Reclamation talks about hydropower, it says we've got untapped potential for low-carbon power. A new report from the Bureau says adding hydropower generators to existing (not new) dams could generate up to one million megawatt hours annually - enough to power more than 85,000 households.
The study examined 530 sites in the Bureau's jurisdiction and found 70 spots throughout the West with potential as new power sources. Those include five sites in California, six in Oregon and six in Washington. Colorado, Utah, Montana, Texas and Arizona have the most potential, it found.
"Adding hydropower capability at existing Reclamation facilities is a cost-effective and environmentally sustainable way to build our clean energy economy," Anne Castle, assistant secretary for water and science, said during a press conference. "We can increase our renewable hydropower output without building new dams."
Building out those 70 projects would create 1,200 new jobs she said. It wasn't clear whether those are permanent positions or temporary construction jobs.
The report comes as a response to President Obama's call to develop a renewable energy portfolio and supply 80 percent of the nation's energy with green sources by 2035 (a plan that isn't going so well overall).
If the plans go forward, the Bureau said it may lease long-term rights to third parties to use federal facilities to generate power under "lease of power privilege agreements."
Hydropower has an uneasy position in the clean-energy landscape - it generates few greenhouse emissions after construction, yet dams profoundly alter rivers and watersheds. The report suggests that existing dams - built for flood control and crop irrigation - might as well generate power. The Bureau says it will conduct more studies before the plans move forward.
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