Energy | Ecotrope

Feds grant millions for small, fish-friendly hydro

Ecotrope | Sept. 6, 2011 9:12 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:35 p.m.

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Here's an example of a low-head dam at the Tumwater fish collection facility in Washington. The Obama administration is investing millions in research and development of technology that would ideally allow little dams like this to produce marketable, fish-friendly power.

Here's an example of a low-head dam at the Tumwater fish collection facility in Washington. The Obama administration is investing millions in research and development of technology that would ideally allow little dams like this to produce marketable, fish-friendly power.

The Obama Administration is spending almost $17 million on grants for research and development projects that could make hydropower more efficient, less expensive and more sustainable.

More than $2.2 million of that will be spent on Oregon projects, and Washington projects are receiving close to $1.8 million. A lot of the money is going toward developing low-head hydro that will generate power in water bodies that drop less than 30 feet – in irrigation canals or non-powered dams, for example.

  • In Oregon, Earth by Design of Bend will receive a $1.5 million grant to develop and test new hydropower technology that would produce marketable electricity in a North Unit Irrigation District canal.

  • Natel Energy of California is getting $746,000 to deploy and test a hydroengine at a Bureau of Reclamation facility in Madras.
  • In Washington, Percheron Power in Kennewick is getting nearly $1.5 million to install another innovative low-head hydro system in Washington’s Potholes East Canal. If it works, the system could eventually got into low-head sites throughout the Columbia River Basin and in other man-made waterways.
  • The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland is getting around $300,000 to redesign the Sensor Fish, a data collection device (sometimes called Robo-fish) that measures movement, acceleration, rotation and pressure changes as it passes through a hydropower turbine. It is designed to take a more accurate picture of the forces fish encounter when passing through dams. The new device is expected to be smaller and cheaper than its predecessors, and could be used in a wide range of turbines to improve fish passage.

Energy Secretary Steven Chu and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar made the announcement today and gave several interesting reasons for why the feds are putting money into hydro. One of the key forces nudging the feds in this direction is the Obama administration’s goal of getting 80 percent of our energy from “clean energy” sources by 2035 (as set out in Obama’s State of the Union address last year). Chu also mentioned the importance of hydro as a way to store and balance renewable energy:

“By improving and deploying advanced hydropower technologies, we can maximize our use of this proven clean energy resource, create jobs, and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” said Secretary Chu. “Hydropower can be used to store energy to help utilities better integrate other sources of renewable energy like wind and solar into the grid, improving our energy security and diversifying our clean energy resources.”

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