“I do think we’re going to see more of this,” Radio said, citing the difficulty of building coal or nuclear facilities. “You take two really big pieces of future generation out of the mix right now, and what that leaves is natural gas, hydro and other renewables.”
While hydroelectric plants cost more to build than those that run on natural gas or wind power, they require little maintenance for decades and the fuel is free.
Hydroelectricity got a boost in 2005, when Congress approved a tax credit for hydropower that was already in place for other sources of renewable energy, including wind and solar.
President Barack Obama signed two bills last month designed to spark more interest in hydropower. One directs the FERC to consider adopting a two-year licensing process at existing non-powered dams. The second authorizes quicker action on proposals for small hydro projects at dams owned by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
Interest in hydropower had been low because of the high cost of construction and a protracted government permit process requiring extensive environmental studies and mounds of paperwork. That left projects mired in bureaucracy for as much as eight years before construction could begin.
“If you keep putting money into something over eight years, pretty soon the cost of that capital just eats you up,” said Kristina Johnson, the former undersecretary in the Department of Energy and CEO of Enduring Hydro, a company that develops hydropower projects. “Given that, it’s not surprising decades go by and things don’t get built.”
Her company is building a 6-megawatt plant at a dam on Mahoning Creek in western Pennsylvania after buying the permit from another company in August. It will supply enough power for 1,800 homes.
An environmental group that has sought since 1973 to minimize harm from hydropower dams largely supports the idea of adding generators to existing dams.
“Some dams need to be removed, but there are also many working dams out there that are still serving a useful purpose for society,” said John Seebach, who leads the effort for Washington-based American Rivers.
In general, he said, rivers would be better off without dams. But since they aren’t going away, “powering those existing dams is in our view the best way to get new hydropower capacity. It’s cheaper than building new dams, and it’s much less likely to cause additional harm to a river.”<< previous 1 2 3 4