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Breaking News: Hydro Currents

Chu pledges to push hydropower

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 dams 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.

Hydro One plans major power line expansion

State-owned Hydro One said it will invest $2.3 billion over three years on new power line projects in hopes of delivering more hydropower to homes and businesses across the province of Ontario. The investment in new transmission and distribution lines is designed to tap into areas of the province where there is abundant potential for hydropower and wind power development, said George Smitherman, Ontario's energy and infrastructure minister. "Enhancing our transmission grid is critical to taking advantage of green energy," Smitherman said. "Resources like hydro and wind aren't often where the people are, and this plan will ensure we can bring renewable green power to the people of Ontario." In addition to unlocking the region's hydropower potential, the grid expansion will create about 20,000 jobs, Canadian officials said. "We're ready to move quickly in enhancing and renewing our transmission and distribution networks," said Laura Formusa, president and chief executive officer of Hydro One. "Hydro One has always provided world-class electricity delivery to the people of Ontario, and our plans for the future will maintain that proud history." The investment, the government said, will improve the reliability of Ontario's transmission system and could lead to a national east-west grid.

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.

Kelly declines nomination to FERC

Declining President Obama's nomination, New Mexico Democrat Suedeen Kelly decided not to seek a new term on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). "During my tenure at FERC, the commission has accomplished many important things," Kelly said. "It is time for me to move on and pursue opportunities to advance these objectives in the private sector." Although Kelly's current term has expired, she will continue to serve on the commission until the Senate confirms a replacement. U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, said Kelly played a major role in shaping U.S. energy policy. "Suedeen's service for nearly six years has earned her praise and support from just about everyone involved with energy policy," Bingaman said. "I appreciate her many contributions at this transformational time for the utility industry."

Jury indicts companies for causing fatal fire at Cabin Creek

A federal grand jury indicted Xcel Energy Inc. and two other companies for violating federal safety rules and causing the death of five workers in a 2007 chemical fire at the Cabin Creek hydropower plant in Colorado. Xcel, Public Service Co. of Colorado, and RPI Coating Inc. were each charged with five counts of violating OSHA regulations and causing death, according to the U.S. Department of Justice. Each company faces a fine of up to $500,000 per count. RPI Coating was hired to remove the old liner in the plant's penstock and replace it with a new epoxy liner. Five employees with RPI Coating were working inside the dewatered penstock at the 324-MW pumped-storage project when a buildup of chemical vapors ignited inside the pipe, blocking their escape path, according to prosecutors. Philippe Goutagny, RPI's owner and president, and James Thompson, RPI's project supervisor, also were indicted and face up to six months in prison and fines of up to $250,000 for each count of violating regulations.

Final phase of Blenheim-Gilboa rehab project begins

New York Power Authority entered the fourth and final phase of a four-year, $135 million program to modernize and extend the life of the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped-Storage project. The 1,160-MW project in the Northern Catskill Mountains of New York began generating power in 1973. Three of the project's four pump-generating units have been refurbished and returned to service. The fourth unit is shut down for refurbishment and is expected to resume service in June 2010, NYPA said. "We are pleased with the results of the previous three phases," said Richard Kessel, NYPA president and chief executive officer. "We are confident that our work over the past three years will allow the Power Authority to meet peak power demand with clean, efficient, and reliable hydropower for years to come." NYPA said the overhauls would allow the facility to produce more power from the same amount of water while extending reliable service.

Ontario enacts feed-in tariff program for hydropower

Price supports for hydropower are included in a new "feed-in tariff" program for renewable-energy producers serving Ontario. The new program, enacted as part of Ontario's Green Energy Act, pays producers a fixed price above market rates for the electricity they produce. The Ontario Power Authority is administering the new program. Under the new feed-in tariff rules, the program will pay hydropower producers 13.1 cents per kWh for up to 10 MW over a 40-year term. The rate is 12.2 cents for 10 to 50 MW over the same period. Mike Layton, program manager for Environmental Defence, an organization that combats climate change, said the new program is sure to encourage more hydropower development in northern Ontario. "I think it will help communities in the north get off diesel," Layton said.

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