Bloomberg News

Hydroelectric Power Seen Expanding 15% From Upgrading U.S. Dams

April 17, 2012

Overhauling dams built for flood control and irrigation may generate 12 gigawatts of electricity in the U.S. without carbon emissions, increasing water power capacity 15 percent, the Energy Department said in a report.

Agency researchers analyzed 54,391 of the more than 80,000 dams in the U.S. that now lack equipment to produce power, compared with 2,500 that generate electricity, according to the report released today by the agency.

Expanding hydroelectric capacity can “help diversify our energy mix, create jobs and reduce carbon pollution nationwide,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement.

President Barack Obama has set a goal of producing 80 percent of the U.S. electricity from clean-energy resources by 2035. Using existing dams to increase hydroelectric power is quicker and cheaper than building dams, according to the report.

Dams on major U.S. waterways such as the Mississippi, Ohio, Alabama and Arkansas rivers and their tributaries have the greatest potential for added power generation, according to the report. The dams are run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“Putting turbines on existing dams is going to be less harmful than building new dams,” said John Seebach, senior director for rivers management at American Rivers, a Washington- based group.

The U.S. hydroelectric industry is lobbying to extend a tax credit that expires at the end of 2013. Doubt about the tax break’s future is already slowing development for projects that require long lead times, industry officials say, echoing an argument used by wind- and solar-energy producers that are also looking to extend subsidies.

Hydropower accounted for 6 percent of total U.S. electricity in 2011, and about 63 percent of the power from renewable sources. More than half of U.S. hydropower is generated in Washington state, Oregon and California, according to the Energy Department.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jim Snyder in Washington at jsnyder24@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jon Morgan at jmorgan97@bloomberg.net


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