Hydropower: A Small but Growing Presence in W.Va. Electric Grid

The State Journal
15 June 2011
By Jim Ross

Lost sometimes in the talk about renewable energy is a simple but growing trend toward hydroelectric power.

And while West Virginia electric power generation is dominated by large coal-burning power plants, hydropower has a presence here, too, whether it's a new power plant attached to a navigation dam on the Kanawha River or an old power plant on the Potomac River, where old-fashioned wheels and ropes turn the turbines that generate the power.

Construction should begin on another hydroelectric plant in West Virginia. American Municipal Power will add a hydroelectric plant to the West Virginia side of the Willow Island Locks and Dam between Parkersburg and St. Marys.

"We've been saying for the last several years that (hydropower) is a vast untapped resource on the Ohio River," said Kent Carson, AMP's senior director of media relations and communications.

"We will start excavation of the cofferdam construction. We just have to finalize with our contractor. Within the next month we will start with Phase I of that construction."

AMP serves 128 public power companies in six states, including two in West Virginia. It has a mix of fossil fuel and renewable generations assets, and it is developing three new hydroelectric power plants at Ohio River navigation dams in Ohio and Kentucky,

One plant at the Cannelton Locks and Dam about 100 miles downstream of Louisville is under construction. It is expected to be on line in fall 2013, Carson said. One at the Captain Anthony Meldahl Locks and Dam upstream of Cincinnati should be in service in summer 2014, and one at Smithland, Ky., is scheduled for completion in after that.AMP is also studying the possibility of building hydroelectric plants at the Pike Island Locks and Dam near Wheeling and the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam near Point Pleasant.

The advantage of hydroelectric plants lies in their ability to generate power at below market rates, Carson said.

After 30 years of operation, the debt will be paid off, and there will be no fuel costs, he said.

"It's sort of like planting a tree and knowing future generations will benefit from the shade," Carson said.

Hydroelectric plants also avoid regulatory issues and possible future problems with carbon dioxide emissions that come with fossil fuel plants, he said.

The Willow Island project will have a powerhouse with two horizontal turbine generating units with a total capacity of 35 megawatts. Power generated by the turbines will be transmitted through a 1.6-mile-long transmission line that will connect with an existing underground transmission line.

During construction, AMP will provide a temporary recreation and fishing access area. After construction, a new recreation and fishing area would open.

The Willow Island plant will be similar to one at the Belleville Locks and Dam between Parkersburg and Ravenswood. That plant also is owned and operated by AMP. It started production in 1999.

In the 1980s, the city of New Martinsville built a hydroelectric power plant at the Hannibal Locks and Dam to supply that city's needs and to sell excess power into the regional grid. American Electric Power has a plant on the Ohio side of the Racine Locks and Dam between Ravenswood and Point Pleasant, and it operates power plants at the three navigation dams on the Kanawha River.

At the other end of the hydroelectric scale are two power plants on the Potomac River.

Dam No. 5 generates about 1.21 megawatts. Dam No. 4 generated about 1.9 megawatts. A megawatt is about what's needed to power 1,000 homes.

"These aren't very big, but they're there," said Todd Meyers, a spokesman for FirstEnergy, which operates the plants.

Two of the three generating units at Dam No. 4 went into service in 1909. The river current turns a wheel, which is connected to the turbine by a rope. The rope must be replaced every couple of years.

FirstEnergy also operates the Millville station, a three-unit plant on the Shenandoah River that went into operation in 1927.

At the other end of the scale is the Lake Lynn plant on the Monongahela River. It produces about 53 megawatts and runs about 275 days a year.

"They're studying Lake Lynn to see if more modern equipment might increase the capacity of generation," Meyers said.

Meyers said that's common in the industry, just as it's common to look at existing dams for new hydro generation rather than building new ones.