DOE, DOI Make Hydropower Push with Funding, Potential Capacity Additions

An internal study released by the Bureau of Reclamation on Thursday found that the federal body overseen by the Department of the Interior (DOI) could generate up to 1 million MW more power annually from 70 of its existing facilities in 14 states. The report was followed by an $26.6 million funding announcement by the DOE and DOI on Tuesday for research and development projects to advance hydropower technology, including pumped storage.

Opportunities for Boosting Hydropower Capacity

The DOI report released on Thursday, “Hydropower Resource Assessment at Existing Reclamation Facilities,” which studied 530 sites throughout the Bureau of Reclamation’s jurisdiction—including dams, diversion structures, and some canals and tunnels—preliminarily identified 91 sites as having some level of capacity addition potential. Seventy of those sites, with a total capacity of 225 MW, also “show some economic potential for hydropower development,” the bureau said. Individual sites range from 125 kW installed capacity to about 26 MW installed capacity.

At many of these sites, hydropower development would be conducted under a “Lease of Power Privilege Agreement” through which a non-federal entity is given a contractual right for up to 40 years to use a Reclamation facility for electric power generation, the bureau said.

The facilities identified by the report are in Colorado, Utah, Montana, Texas, Arizona, California, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Washington and Wyoming.

Regulatory constraints could either completely block development of additional capacity or add significant costs for mitigation, permitting, or site investigation, the bureau noted, however. Constraints include water supply, fish and wildlife considerations, and effects on Native Americans, water quality, and recreation.

The Bureau of Reclamation is the second-largest hydropower producer after the Army Corps of Engineers, operating 58 power plants and 194 generating units. The federal body currently generates an estimated 40 billion kWh of hydroelectric energy at existing facilities.

The report released Thursday was developed as part of the Obama administration’s push to develop a portfolio to meet 80% of U.S. energy needs with renewables by 2035.

Grants for New Hydro Technologies

The DOI and DOE said that the $26.6 million in funding would be focused on development of innovative technologies that can “produce power more efficiently, reduce costs and increase sustainable hydropower generation at sites not previously considered practical.”
Funds will be granted to:

  • Sustainable Small Hydropower ($10.5 million awarded over 3 years): These projects will research, develop, and test low head small hydropower technologies that can be quickly and efficiently deployed in existing or constructed waterways. The DOE will fund system or component model development, as well as the testing of these systems.
  • Environmental Mitigation Technologies for Conventional Hydropower ($2.25 million awarded over 3 years): These projects will develop innovative conventional hydropower technologies that feature enhanced environmental performance designs to increase electricity generation while mitigating fish and habitat impacts and enhancing downstream water quality. As an example, concepts that demonstrate turbine efficiencies greater than 90 percent and fish passage survival greater than 96 percent will be sought.
  • Sustainable Pumped Storage Hydropower ($11.875 million awarded over 4 years): The DOE intends to provide technical and financial assistance to accelerate pumped storage hydropower projects already in the pipeline. Projects that begin construction by 2014 and integrate wind and/or solar will be preferred. DOE will also support analyses that calculate the economic value of pumped storage hydropower in dynamically responding to the grid and in providing other ancillary services.
  • Advanced Conventional Hydropower System Testing at a Bureau of Reclamation Facility ($2.0 million awarded over 3 years): These projects will support system tests of innovative, low-head hydropower technologies at non-powered hydro facilities and sites owned by the Bureau of Reclamation. The deliverable includes testing to demonstrate energy cost reductions that could be replicated at other Bureau of Reclamation sites. Both the Bureau and Department of Energy are sponsoring this work.

The DOE will evaluate applications based on the metrics and guidelines published in the solicitation and will award funding on a competitive basis to a variety of projects and to technologies at various levels of development. Mandatory letters of intent are due May 5, 2011, and completed applications are due June 6, 2011. For more details on this opportunity, see the Funding Opportunity Announcement. Funding is subject to annual congressional appropriations.

Sources: POWERnews, DOE, DOI

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