Slow River Reduces Output at WV's Hydro Plant at Willow Island

The State Journal
21 October 2016
By Jim Ross

The Ohio River was moving pretty slow on Tuesday, Oct. 18.

It was so slow, it was almost not enough to run the hydroelectric plant being dedicated that day.

Because of the recent spell of dry weather, the dam gates at the Willow Island Locks and Dam were closed and all river water was running through one turbine of the plant.

During a tour following the dedication ceremony, Scott Barta, director of hydropower operations for American Municipal Power, pointed to a graph in a computer screen. A red dot in the lower left corner showed the 4,000 cubic feet of water moving through the turbine each second was the bare minimum to keep the plant operating. If the flow slowed, the plant would shut down, as it has done four days this summer, he said.

In large hydroelectric power plants, there is a large drop of water and turbines are placed so water runs through them vertically. In small run-of-river plants such as the one at Willow Island, the turbines are horizontal. They produce the most power when the difference in elevation of water above the dam and below the dam, known as head, is greatest and when there is a sufficient quantify of water moving through the river.

Barta said 15,000 cubic feet per second is the ideal flow for Willow Island. Because the head is important, when flow is too high and there is no difference between upper and lower elevations, the plant shuts down, he said.

In times such as this, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the locks and dam at Willow Island, decides how much water the power plant will have available, Barta said.

“They’re very good at giving us water. There’s just not very much water now,” he said.

There was only enough to run one of the plant’s two turbines, Barta said.

As Barta spoke, a readout showed the plant was producing about 6 megawatts of power of its total capacity at ideal flow of 44 megawatts.

The low flow was also evident at AMP’s power plant at the Belleville Locks and Dam, about 42 miles downstream from Willow Island, where all dam gates were closed and water was run through the power plant. A similar situation existed another 34 miles downstream at the Racine Locks and Dam and the hydroelectric plant owned and operated by American Electric Power.