Colorado and the West poised for federal hydropower push?


Here’s the pitch from the National Hydropower Asset Assessment Program:

The New Stream-reach Development Resource Assessment (NSD) project uses an innovative geographic approach to analyze the potential for new hydropower development in US stream segments that do not currently have hydroelectric facilities. NSD is one among other types of untapped hydropower potential such as non-powered dams, existing hydropower facilities, pumped storage, and small conduits. The NSD project considers “new stream-reach development” (assessments conducted for the conterminous US) and “new site development” (assessments conducted for Alaska and Hawaii) distinct from other hydropower resource classes identified by the US Department of Energy (DOE) Water Power Program.

Developed and implemented by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) for the DOE Water Power Program, the assessments leverage recent advancements in various geographic datasets on topography, hydrology, and environmental characteristics to develop the highest resolution and most rigorous national evaluation of US hydropower potential to date. NSD assessments are not intended to determine economic feasibility or to justify financial investments in individual site development. The NSD project does, however, identify high-energy intensity stream-reaches and classify new potential areas for hydropower development using a range of technical, socio-economic, and environmental characteristics. The primary goal of this initiative is to produce and disseminate information and data that are applicable to multiple types of assessments, scenarios, and assumptions, ultimately leading to improved decision making and strategic planning by various organizations and individuals.

From the Denver Business Journal (Neil Westergaard):

Colorado and other western states are being positioned as ground zero in what appears to be a potential massive new push by the federal government to develop new hydroelectric power capacity in the U.S. That’s the underlying assumption in a new study unveiled by the U.S. Department of Energy Tuesday in Washington before a conference of hydroelectric-power interests.</p

Entitled “New Stream-reach Development Resource Assessment,” the report ( access here), by the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, estimates that 65 gigawatts of additional hydropower could be developed nationwide — 3.8 gigawatts in Colorado…

But release of the report had environmental groups in Colorado and nationally saying, “Not so fast.”

It would take a massive infrastructure investment to achieve that kind of capacity. One Colorado River advocate said the kind of development suggested by the DOE’s numbers would mean “the end of rivers” in the state.

In Colorado, 3.8 gigawatts of hydro nearly approaches all of the existing hydroelectric power being generated in the entire Colorado River basin, including Hoover Dam, Glen Canyon Dam, Flaming Gorge and the Aspinall Unit dams on the Gunnison River.
Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz unveiled the study at the National Hydropower Association’s annual conference, meeting in Washington, D.C., this week. Moniz implored industry leaders to get behind the idea.

“Hydropower can double its contributions by the year 2030. We have to pick up the covers off of this hidden renewable that’s right in front of our eyes and continues to have significant potential.”[…]

In a press release, the DOE seemed to suggest that retrofitting existing non-powered dams would be one way expand hydroelectric capacity.

But Matt Rice, director of the Colorado River Basin Program of American Rivers, a Washington-based advocacy group, said the suggestion by DOE that 65 gigawatts of additional power could be generated this way ignores myriad legal, environmental and financial barriers.

“I think it’s a shame. It’s an irresponsible release with those numbers. It’s a shame because there’s a lot of great hydropower going on in Colorado,” Rice said. “To get to this number, you would need new dams, you would need new diversions, and that’s not to mention the legal barriers that would stop this kind of development.”

American Rivers isn’t opposed to hydroelectric power development. It sponsors programs to develop small retrofitted hydro units on existing un-powered dams and assists farmers and ranchers with development of small-scale hydro projects.

The DOE touted the study as a “New Vision for United States Hydropower” and established a website with a video on the benefits of hydropower. You can access it here.

2 thoughts on “Colorado and the West poised for federal hydropower push?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.