3 Rivers Clean Energy

Innovative Energy Solutions for the Future
From Southwestern PA and West Virginia

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Energy from Water

Hydroelectricity makes a big splash in the world of renewable energy.

Hydroelectricity - energy from water - provides about 10% of the U.S. supply, with a capacity that is second only to Canada in the world. Nearly 2,400 plants, located primarily on the Pacific Coast, in the Southeast, and in New York, provide 35,500 MW (megawatts) of energy. It is the least costly form of power generation and the most efficient.

A January 2006 study estimated that there is a potential for approximately doubling U.S. hydroelectricity generation based strictly on technical parameters such as water flow, but a more realistic projection would be a 50% increase. Most of these facilities could be constructed without building new dams, using existing infrastructure and technologies. Only 2,400 of the nation's 80,000 dams are currently used to generate power. However, this has not been a priority for the federal government - in the last 10 years, although the U.S. Department of Energy has spent $1.2 billion on renewable energy research, only $10 million of that has been directed to hydroelectricity projects.

Hydroelectricity, especially when it is generated from impoundments or dams, is not without its environmental costs. Fish and plants are killed due to lowered water temperature during lake formation. There are methane releases from decaying material on the lake bottoms. Sudden water releases cause oxygen and water temperature changes that are deadly for fish. Fish are killed in turbine blades. And of course, there can be significant land area loss from lake formation.

What's the potential for more hydroelectricity generation in the 3 Rivers Region? In terms of the total hydro power potential of the region's waterways, Pennsylvania is ranked eleventh nationally, and West Virginia is ranked fourteenth. The region has the capacity to nearly quadruple its current production levels from a total of over 400 MW (284 MW in PA and 140 MW in WV) to over 1500 MW were it to capture more of its hydroelectricity opportunities. For example, Locks and Dams 8 and 9 on the Allegheny River were retrofitted with small hydro generation plants many years ago and provide power to the immediate vicinity.

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©2007 Janet S. Lauer Consulting. All rights reserved.