National Hydropower Day highlights costs, benefits of controversial technology

National Hydropower Day came and went last week, and the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority issued a statement celebrating the occasion, offering positive points regarding the most popular form of renewable energy in America.

According to the group’s press release, hydropower has long been a key component to the Green Mountain State’s power grid.

“Hydropower has been the backbone of Vermont’s electricity generation since the late 1700s, when many dams were built to power grain mills. Today, VPPSA members own nine hydropower facilities with a total generating capacity of 21.9 megawatts (MW). In 2018, public-owned hydropower accounted for 14 percent of VPPSA’s energy portfolio,” the statement reads.

Wikimedia Commons/Bouchecl

HYDRO DAY: The Daniel-Johnson Dam, located north of Baia-Comeau, Quebec, is the cornerstone of Hydro-Quebec’s Manic-cinq hydroelectric complex.  National Hydropower Day took place on Aug. 23, and while the power potential of water is huge, it comes in different forms and costs, both economic and to the environment.

VPPSA’s general manager, Ken Nolan, said locally owned hydropower enables VPPSA member to meet renewable energy requirements mandated by law.

“One of our members, Swanton Village, is 100 percent renewable largely due to generation from the Orman Croft Hydroelectric facility,” he said.

The VPPA boasts eight member-owned hydropower facilities which are “run-of-the-river” style. That operation is said to “have the lowest impact on water quality and ecology,” according to the group. The Low Impact Hydropower Institute certifies dams to ensure that they meet specific “high environmental, cultural, and recreational standards.”

But William Short, an energy consultant for New England, says not all is rosy for hydropower, especially when it comes to Hydro-Quebec. On the environmental front, he noted that huge amounts of land were filled with water, displacing indigenous people.

“HQ [Hydro Quebec] has inundated the land area of Connecticut, Rhode Island, and Massachusets since 1960,” Short said. “That’s how large the reservoir system is. Basically, 38,000 megawatts of generation and the cost is essentially what amounts to about a third of the landmass of New England underwater.”

Short said Hydro-Quebec is held to different standards than hydropower in New England. “They certainly wouldn’t be certifiable by the Low Impact Hydropower Institute,” he said.

Hydro-Quebec’s power generation is massive. Economically, hydropower is more affordable than competing renewable energy prices from wind and solar — but it’s still more than the generally non-renewable market-rate power.

Short says that power from Hydro-Quebec sells for more than 6 cents per kilowatt-hour, whereas the market rate tends to hover around 3 cents per kilowatt-hour.

“Don’t get the idea that you are getting a great deal,” Short said of Hydro-Quebec.

Gov. Phil Scott, who largely ran for office in 2016 on opposition to industrial wind power, is a solid proponent of hydropower.

“I think we can attain 90 percent renewables by 2050, but it’s going to take some technology changes,” Scott said. “It’s going to take utilizing some of those rich renewable sources to the north [Hydro-Quebec].”

On a local scale, hydropower can have its issues. In July 2018, Hardwick Electric director Mike Sullivan stated that the Wolcott Dam, which delivers 10 percent of the company’s power production, was in need of more than a quarter-million dollars in repairs.

Sullivan told the Hardwick Selectboard that state agencies were in disagreement over what to do with it.

“There’s conflict between the Public Utility Commission who has authority over us and over that dam and ANR [the Agency of Natural Resources], the DEC [the Department of Environmental Conservation], and all the other regulation agencies and environmental agencies in the state, because they don’t want any releases,” he said.

Bill Scully, a Bennington Selectboard member and hydro station owner, likewise said hydropower has varying costs and benefits. He wrote a comprehensive paper on renewables which can be read online.

Scully argues there’s an existing energy storage technology which may be the answer to efficiently store energy without expensive batteries made of toxic materials.

“Pump storage is when you can take hydro, wind, and solar, any or all of them to power pumps that then pump out of a water supply, it might be a large lake or a river, up to a storage facility up high,” he wrote. “And then these same pumps are also generators for when the water is released and goes down.”

This year National Hydropower Day took place on Aug. 23.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for True North Reports. Send him news tips at bielawski82@yahoo.com and follow him on Twitter @TrueNorthMikeB.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons/Bouchecl
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5 thoughts on “National Hydropower Day highlights costs, benefits of controversial technology

  1. There are other situations that displace indigenous people and non-indigenous people, however, THE NEEDS OF THE MANY OUTWEIGH THE NEEDS OF THE FEW. The squeaky wheel can’t always get the grease. Sometimes the squeaking needs to be ignored.

  2. Please tell me what would power Vermont during cloudy, rainy, snowy, foggy weather and from 5 pm to about 8 am the next day?

    Please don’t tell me you will use batteries, as that would be idiotically expensive.
    BTW, I did the math.

    Batteries would have to sell at $50 to $75kWh, turnkey cost, to make that affordable for Joe and Jane Vermonter.

    Same with electric vehicles, unless a very high carbon tax is imposed to make driving a car unaffordable.

    Can you imagine the outrageous cost of the extra generators, poles and wires to power all these EVs, plus about 200,000 chargers, at $1500 turnkey cost each, in Vermonters homes and in public places?

    Another socialist, bureaucrat, pipe dream

  3. With all due respect, this report appears to be significantly biased against Hydro Quebec.

    Comparing the area of CT, MA and RI to the area of HQ’s reservoirs is a case in point. Quebec is Canada’s 2nd largest province, almost 600 thousand square miles in size. CT, MA and RI together are barely more than 17 thousand square miles. The aggregate size of HQ’s reservoirs are somewhere between 3000 to 4000 square miles. That’s 6/100ths of a percent of Quebec’s land mass, much of which was already covered with naturally occurring lakes and rivers. This article over-states the reservoir size by more than 400%.

    The population density of the Province of Quebec is about 14 people per square mile. The population density of CT, MA and RI is about 665 people per square mile. There are 11 Aboriginal nations, in 55 communities, living in Quebec. Nowhere can I find any data on how many individuals were ‘displaced’ by HQ. Did they lose access to some of that area? Yes. But were they ‘displaced’? Did they receive any benefits? Check it out.

    The last time I checked with GMP, HQ wholesale power was 5.6 cents per KWH. Locally generated Wind and Solar power was purchased locally in Vermont by GMP for more than 20 cents per KWH, a cost differential passed on to GMP customers.

    HQ has a 45 thousand megawatt generating capacity, largest in North America, that produced over 200 terawatts of electricity last year. That’s equal to about 117 million barrels of oil. I’ll let someone else figure how much CO2 that replaces. https://www.cer-rec.gc.ca/nrg/ntgrtd/mrkt/nrgsstmprfls/qc-eng.html

    • I’ll let some twelve-years-to-doom -ist address the non sequitur of CO2 and climate (always)changing. What I have issue with is the use of grid power to “pump storage” the hydro that might be used for peak power demand.

      While it may have worked for facilities close to producers like the now defunct Yankee Rowe, the inefficiencies involved with drawing grid power for the same purpose make it a loser, especially when considering the costs involved in siting and constructing the reservoirs and piping that would be required. Remember that the energy derived from the “falling” water cannot more than equal that used to pump it to the upper elevation. In all cases it will be much less, and depends upon the design of the hydroturbine generator, line losses in the piping and, of course, distance between storage and generator which contributes to line loss in BOTH directions.

  4. The only way renewable’s can power Vt or the nation, like the socialist want, is to build a lot of major pumped storage plants to provide power when the sun doesn’t shine and wind doesn’t blow. — Of course they don’t believe it and won’t allow it. In truth they are all much like the people who promised us power too cheap to meter back in the 1950s.

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