Enjoy, Explore, and Protect the Planet Sierra Club Allegheny Group, Pennsylvania Chapter

Energy Power Plants Rivers and Water

The Other Alternate Energy – Hydro-Power

While wind power is getting lots of attention, both good and bad, and solar power is only just beginning to take off, little is said about the use of hydro-power on the rivers in western Pennsylvania.

Well, it turns out that near the Kinzua Dam up north on the Allegheny River is the Seneca Pumped Storage Generating Station. This facility, relying on pumping water up to a holding pond above the river, has been in operation since 1970 with a rated capacity of 402 MW. To put that in perspective, the rating for the 40 turbines on the Allegheny Ridge wind farm totals 80 MW. And the largest of First Energy’s plants, Bruce Mansfield near Shippingport, has three units that total 2,460 MW of electricity.

In addition to the pumped storage facility at Kinzua, there are other hydroelectric facilities that simply rely on the flow of water over the dams associated with the river locks. Of the 23 locks and dams in the Corps of Engineers District 3, five have hydroelectric facilities in place; four are on the Allegheny at Freeport (Lock #5), Clinton (#6), Mosgrove (#8) and Rimer (#9). These facilities are rated at 8 to 12MW each. The power is greater further down river, with 36 MW at the Hannibal lock on the Ohio River. There are also simple-flow hydroelectric facilities at two of the Corps of Engineer reservoirs: Youghiogheny (12MW) and Connemaugh (15MW).

Tapping into the potential power of our rivers appears to be a cyclic business. The Canadian company Brookfield Renewable Power has sought licenses from FERC to build hydroelectric facilities at thirteen locks on our three rivers, but the current economic downturn appears to have stalled these plans. Further along is the Super Panda Hydroelectric Project at Lock and Dam #3, Elizabeth. Unfortunately, the Corps has plans to demolish the dam sometime between 2016 and 2025.

So, it looks as though there is still over 200 MW of power to be squeezed out of our region’s rivers, but not until the investors see the chance for a fair return.

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