Cannelton Locks and Dam: Power of Ohio River to be harnessed to create green energy

Published Aug. 9, 2009

On the banks of the Ohio River, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, is helping to make strides toward American energy independence with the groundbreaking of its first hydropower facility in nearly 45 years.

On Aug. 5, 2009, American Municipal Power (AMP) partnered with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and local and state officials to break ground on the new $416 million facility utilizing Cannelton Locks and Dam in Hawesville, Ky.

The four-year construction project will result in an 84-megawatt hydropower plant that will create energy and provide power to approximately 35,000 homes in the region. Power will be generated by using the difference in water surface elevations created by the existing dam for navigation.

This project is the first of five hydroelectric projects on the Ohio River that together “will supply more than 350-megawatts of renewable energy into the region and will help to make the Ohio River Valley a showcase for alternative energy sources,” said Marc Gerken, AMP president and CEO.

“This hydropower facility is great because it produces energy in such an environmentally friendly way,” said Ken Lamkin, Louisville District Hydropower Coordinator. “There is no input of fossil fuels and long term maintenance is very low. Hydropower is very sustainable; it’s a very beneficial way of using the raw power of the Ohio River that’s naturally there.”

“What a valuable and huge asset that river is for the commonwealth of Kentucky,” said Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear, “We need to be taking every advantage we can of that river. It can play a huge role in the future development of all of our counties, all of our cities lying along it.”

American Municipal Power, the project sponsor, is a wholesale power supplier and services provider in six states. AMP also partners with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which oversees the development of these types of hydroelectric projects, and the Corps of Engineers.

“This is just another example of the great things that can happen when we partner together,” said Louisville District Commander Col. Keith Landry.

The Corps has the responsibility to ensure the expanded function of the dam as a source of clean power without interfering with the original purpose of the dam.

“We have to balance being responsive to industry and maintaining good stewardship,” said Landry.

Although the purpose of the plant is ultimately to create green, renewable energy, it also provides many other economic benefits such as creating jobs, lessening American dependence on foreign oil, and reducing the costs of reliable energy.

“Energy is the currency of the future,” said Beshear. “If we don’t have power and the ability to produce it, or purchase it, or transport it in bulk, then we don’t have jobs,” he continued. “You don’t have transportation; you don’t have economic viability.”

<b>Job Creation</b>

The project will bring jobs and economic development to the region. The four-year construction project, expected to be complete in the fall of 2013, at its peak will employ approximately 400 workers.

“The hundreds of jobs provided during the four-year long construction period are going to be a boon for Kentucky families and this whole area,” said Beshear.

Once on-line the project will employ 9-12 permanent operators.

<b>Reduced dependence on foreign oil</b>

Energy is a national security interest; the new plant and the power it produces are one step closer to reducing the nation’s dependence on foreign oil.

“Unfortunately our power supply in the U.S. faces a lot of growing threats,” said Beshear. “The United States is far too dependent on foreign sources of energy.”

Kentucky Congressman Brett Guthrie emphasized the need to increase American energy independence. “The answer is in alternatives, and one of the great alternatives, here, is hydropower,” he said.

<b>Lower energy costs</b>

“The beating sun, the blowing wind, and the rushing water; these are all powerful and unlimited forces. Harnessing those forces in a productive, efficient and cost effective way takes creativity and it takes investment,” said Beshear.

That investment can pay off a little quicker with hydropower facilities though, than with wind or solar facilities.

“It is the most reliable power at the lowest possible cost,” said Jon Bisher, chair of the AMP Board of Trustees.

Hydroelectric facilities can generate an average of 65 percent of their capacity—compared to about 25 percent for wind and 10 percent for solar. Another benefit of hydropower versus other renewable energy sources is that river flow can be predicted more easily than sunshine or wind on any given day.

“An energy producer can forecast how much energy a hydropower facility will generate and be able to reduce generation or delay startup at thermal facilities, resulting in a cost savings,” said Lamkin.

“In this part of the country it is clear that hydroelectric generation is superior to other renewable technologies,” said Gerken.

Additionally, consumers benefit from this project because they get a bigger bang for their buck since the dam serves a dual purpose.

“We are really maximizing taxpayer dollars in this circumstance,” said Landry.

All of these benefits have been realized at AMP’s first hydropower plant which was built in 1999 at Huntington District’s Belleville Locks and Dam in West Virginia. Based on that success, AMP has prioritized the development of additional hydro resources. The Cannelton hydropower plant is the first of five plants currently under development. Next on the list is a proposed plant at Louisville District’s Smithland Locks and Dam near Brookport, Ill.

“We have developed a key working relationship with the Corps,” said Gerken. “We respect that relationship, and it’s been a good one.”

The future of hydropower at Corps locks and dams looks bright. AMP is planning to begin construction on the Smithland project this fall pending approval of outstanding USACE permit actions and approvals by FERC. Upon its completion, four of eight Louisville District dams on the Ohio River will support hydropower facilities.