TREND: Hydro on the Rise

Although it doesn’t get much attention, the world’s first and largest source of renewable electricity, water power, is still a major player on the world stage. Though viewed as politically incorrect by some folks, mostly in the developed world, and despite its well-known environmental impacts, using water to turn turbines to generate electricity represents an attractive way to generate electricity with no fuel costs, even in the U.S.

In Michigan, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, in order to increase its portfolio of renewable resources, is considering adding hydro capacity to two existing dams on the Huron River, according to Ann Arbor.com. The VA is looking at the Argo and Geddes dams for hydropower production. Both elderly dams—nearly 100 years old—once produced power but have been idle for many years. According to the news website, the VA has commissioned the Army Corps of Engineers to look at the feasibility of returning the dams to electricity production. Environmentalists in the city have been pushing for removal of the Argo Dam.

The city owns four dams on the Huron and restored hydropower capability on two of them in the 1980s. Additional electric generation from Argo and Geddes would go to powering the local VA hospital, which has an annual electric bill in excess of $2 million. The VA estimates the dams could save about $500,000 annually, but the upgrades could cost as much as $15 million.

In India, Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam (UJVN), the electric utility owned by the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand (formerly known as Uttaranchal) has announced a large program to develop new hydropower sites in the water-rich state. UJVN, with 1,305 MW of installed hydro capacity, has faced criticism for not moving rapidly enough to develop the state’s hydro potential. The utility said it wants to move forward with the 120-MW Vyasi, 600-MW Kishau, and 300-MW Lakhwar projects, which have completed planning and are ready to begin construction. Further back in the hydro pipeline are the 100-MW Nandprayagy Langasu, 120-MW Tamaklata, and 300-MW Bawala Nandprayag projects. UJVN was established in 2001, with an installed capacity of 980 MW, and has added 325 MW of capacity since its founding.

Norway’s Statkraft will be building a new 102-MW hydropower plant in Turkey, according to a report in HydroWorld. The announcement came shortly after Statkraft finished its first Turkish hydro project, the 20-MW Cakit plant. The Norwegian power company will be building the Kargi plant, located northeast of Ankara on the Kizilirmak River, the longest river in Turkey, which runs into the Black Sea. The plant, being built for Turkish hydro operator Yesil Enerji, is scheduled to go online in 2013, at a cost of about $341 million. In 2009, Statkraft bought 95% of Yesil Enerji from Global Yatirim for $195 million. "Kargi is a profitable project, which will provide Turkey and Europe with more clean energy. It will also create jobs and local development,‚Äù Oistein Andresen, executive vice president in charge of International Hydropower at Statkraft, told Balkans.com. Energy demand in Turkey is growing faster than in any other European market.

In Africa, Brazil will finance and build the large but long-stalled Mambilla hydro project in Nigeria, according to AllAfrica.com. The 2,600-MW project  on the Mambilla plateau has been in the planning stages for a decade and has an estimate price tag in excess of $1.5 billion. In 2007, Nigeria signed a contract with a Chinese state-owned company to build the project, but the deal died when financing by the China Ex-Im Bank fell through, according to American University expert Deborah Bratigam, author of The Dragon’s Gift, a book on Chinese-African relations. The Brazilian government, through state-owned Petrobras, now will step in and replace the Chinese on the project. The announcement came during a visit by Ana Candida Perex, Brazil’s ambassador to Nigeria, with energy czar Alhaji Ibrahim Shehu Njiddah.

The Three Gorges Dam, China’s premier hydro project, met a major milestone in October when the water level reached 175 meters, according to the state-owned Xinhua news service. That’s the highest level for the 185-meter-deep dam on the middle reach of the Yangtze River, which began to store water in 2003. The 175-meter level allows engineers to do some testing of the dam’s ability to control the famous Yangtze floods that have been recorded throughout Chinese history. The dam is the largest water control project in the world and the second hydropower project at over 18,000 MW of capacity. The Itaipu Dam on the Brazil-Paraguay border has installed capacity of 14 GW. Construction on the Three Gorges Dam began 16 years ago and ended in October. According to Chinese authorities, the dam will have a normal water level of between 145 meters and 175 meters, depending on the need for flood control.

—Kennedy Maize is MANAGING POWER‘s executive editor.

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