Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Oregon's Power Potential (2/8) Hydro

Hydroelectric

Before discussing the other renewables, Oregon's existing hydro is important to understand. There are 14 major dams on the Columbia and Snake Rivers and over 20 hydroelectric dams in Oregon. As mentioned in part 1, these generate over two thirds of the state's energy.

Hydro is an excellent complement to variable renewable power such as Wind and Solar because hydro generation is relatively easy to manipulate. This allows Oregon a flexibility in power generation that many other areas do not have.

Despite hydroelectric being CO2 free, there are still environmental concerns. These concerns have spurred the “Save Our Wild Salmon” and “Breach the Dam” campaigns.

Portland General Electric (PGE) is looking into expanding hydroelectric energy generation via small hydrokinetic projects. These are turbines that are installed directly in streams, canals or rivers. "You can think of them as underwater wind turbines.", said John Esler, PGE's project manager for hydro licensing.  They are less disruptive to fish and landscape, while still growing the renewable power base. 

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has called for utilities to boost the nation's hydro capacity by 90 gigawatts over the next 10 or 15 years through upgrades to existing dams and hydrokinetic development. A two-year extension of the production tax credit in the economic recovery act also encourages development of hydrokinetic projects.

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