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Hydropower Is On the Rise in the Ohio Valley

Enough to Power 320,000 Homes Will Come Online

Photo by Casey Junkins The Ohio side of the Pike Island Locks and Dam is a popular summer fishing spot. Dams such as this continue to be turned into hydroelectric plants along the Ohio River.

WHEELING –Enough new hydroelectricity to power up to 320,000 homes will come online this year, while four new power plants are under construction at dams along the Ohio River in West Virginia and Kentucky.

In 2014, American Municipal Power considered building a hydroelectric power plant at the Pike Island Locks and Dam, but eventually dropped the project. However, AMP officials opened generating units at the Willow Island Lock and Dam in Pleasants County, W.Va. earlier this year. The New Martinsville/Hannibal Hydroelectric Plant has been in place since 1988.

“These facilities will help insulate us from future carbon regulations and will be a long-term benefit for our members,” AMP President and CEO Marc Gerken said.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration said projects are also ongoing at Cannelton, Meldahl and Smithland in Kentucky. When these are complete, the hydroelectricity generating capacity along the Ohio River will grow from 313 megawatts to 554 megawatts.

“U.S. hydropower has the potential to grow significantly with only 3 percent of the nation’s existing dams equipped to generate power,” National Hydropower Association Executive Director Linda Church Ciocci said.

Administration officials also said 300 megawatts of electricity generating capacity is supposed to enter service this year at dams that previously had no hydropower plants. This constitutes the vast majority of the 320 megawatts of hydroelectric power set to come online in 2016.

Existing conventional hydroelectric generators in the United States provided 251 million megawatt hours of electricity in 2015, or about 6 percent of annual total net generation. Unlike other forms of renewable energy, such as solar and wind, hydroelectric capacity additions have been relatively modest in recent years, the administration said.

Ciocci believes the Energy Policy Modernization Act of 2015, which is now in a conference committee with both the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives, offers a promising future, however.

“Already the nation’s largest renewable electricity resource, hydropower can undoubtedly play an even greater role in addressing climate change and expanding our clean energy portfolio,” she said. “Proceeding to a conference on the House and Senate versions of the energy bill brings the nation one step closer to fully realizing hydropower’s clean energy potential and its contribution to a reliable and functioning electric grid system.”

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