Electrifying Unpowered Dams

Electrifying Unpowered Dams


Around the world, some 5,000 large dams are now more than 50 years old, and the number and size of the dams reaching their half century is rapidly increasing. The average age of dams in the US is now around 40 years. According to a panel on dam aging at ICOLD’s 1991 Congress, “in the future attention and activity [will] be more and more shifted from the design and construction of new dams to the restoration of the structural and operational safety of existing dams”.  Many of these are decommissioned dams.

Dangerous dams, however, are far from purely a problem of the ex–Soviet republics. Between 1977 and 1982 the Corps of Engineers inspected 8,800 non–federal dams in the US, most of them privately–owned, which it classified as “high–hazard” – where a failure could cause significant loss of life. One–third of these dams – 2,900 – were considered to be “unsafe”, primarily because of inadequate spillway capacity. A 1994 survey showed at least 1,800 non–federal dams were still unsafe. The situation is similar for federal dams: in 1987 one–fifth of BuRec’s 275 dams were classified as unsafe, as were one–third of the 554 dams operated by the Corps of Engineers.

An Ontario Hydro study of data from several hundred North American dams shows that on average hydro dam operating costs rise dramatically after around 25–35 years of operation due to the increasing need for repairs. When the cost of maintaining an old dam exceeds the receipts from power sales, its owners must decide either to invest in rehabilitating the dam, or, if the cost of repairs would be prohibitive, to disconnect the dam from the grid and cease producing power.

 As discussed, small dams and small dam owners collectively, represent as great a risk to the public as large dams and large dam owners, if not more so.

Dams Purpose US
Dams Purpose US

Preliminary estimates indicate that by 2030,  from 2% to 15% of the nation’s electricity could come from water power – including hydro power and marine and hydro kinetic energy sources, such as waves and tides.

New Hydropower Resources: Non-Powered Dams
New Hydropower Resources: Non-Powered Dams

New Hydropower Resources: Non-Powered Dams
New Hydropower Resources: Non-Powered Dams

The highest potential among all the states was found largely in the western U.S.—Washington, Idaho, Alaska, Oregon, Montana, Colorado, and California—with Kansas, Wyoming, Missouri, and Pennsylvania, leading the rest of the country. Among the top 100 candidates for hydropower development at identified NPDs, 81 are US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) projects.

Summary of Non-powered Dam Hydro Power Potential   by Federal Agency


Federal Agency NPDs located on land owned by agencies NPDs owned/operated by agencies
# of NPDs MW # of NPDs MW
US Army Corps of Engineers 121 517.1 373 8241.6
Bureau of Reclamation 191 268.3

The Corps report identifies more than 220 non-powered sites for potential hydroelectric power development.

Through initiatives like the Loan Guarantee Program and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy, the Department funds cutting-edge research and the deployment of innovative clean energy technologies.

However, in the last 10 years the Department of Energy has spent $1.2 billion for research and development for other renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal, but only $10 million on hydro power.

Other forms of renewable energy from tides, the oceans and wave energy can be used to generate electricity, but they are generally more expensive.

The National Hydropower Association (NHA) estimated that these projects will bring enough new renewable energy to the region to serve more than 250,000 households and help avoid more than two million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions each year.

Dam Decommissioning can be very expensive

How much will the removal cost?

The best-known dam decommissioning controversy surrounds a pair of dams that decimated fisheries on the Elwha River in Washington State: the 31-meter Elwha and 70-meter Glines Canyon Dams.

The $26.9 million dam removal contract was awarded on the Elwha River in Washington State.  The total cost of Elwha River Restoration is approximately $324.7 million, which includes purchase of the two dams and hydroelectric plants from their previous owner, construction of two water treatment plants

When early 20th century engineers designed America’s dams, they only imagined a few key uses like boat navigation, capturing water for crops, or creating a great place to catch bass.

Dams do not live forever. A dead or dying dam may have silted up, stopped producing electricity, or become increasingly unsafe, at which point it may be a candidate for removal. Not all dams slated for removal are targeted for safety reasons, however: another major reason prompting activists to call for the removal of dams is the decimation of fisheries.

Removing a hydro dam could even cost more than building one, especially where reservoir sediments contain heavy metals and other toxic contaminants.

Hydro Non-Power PotentialHydro Non-Power Potential

Adding power to the existing dam structure can often be achieved at lower cost, with less risk, and in a shorter time frame than development requiring new dam construction.

By 2020, over 70% of US dams will be 50 years or older and in need of repair, replacement or removal. In addition, there are over 49,000 low-head, non-powered dams in the U.S. suitable for hydro power.

Eight of the 20 sites have a potential feasible capacity greater than 10 MW. In terms of feasible capacity, Melvin Price Lock and Dam has the greatest potential feasibility capacity at 130 MW.

Hydro Non-Power Potential

Advanced Hydro Solutions has begun converting an existing dam built in 1942, the Mahoning Creek Dam in Armstrong County, Pennsylvania, into a hydroelectric facility. The $12.5 million project has a generation capacity of 6 MW and will produce 20,000 MWh energy yearly, supplying power for approximately 6000 homes. Let’s analyze the true cost: $2,083/kW ($.24/kWh)

Mahoning Creek Dam Hydro Project
Mahoning Creek Dam Hydro Project

Sturgeon Dam: another costly Removal

The 16 m high Sturgeon concrete arch dam was built on the Sturgeon River, Michigan, in 1919 to supply 0.8 MW of hydroelectric power. In 1998 the dam owner agreed to remove the dam, stating that it was no longer economic to operate. The dam was progressively removed in three stages at a cost of approximately US$2 MILLION

HUG will deploy its patented modular technology to revitalize non-powered dams.  HUG‘s technology is designed to accomplish the following:

  • Reduce the time frames to develop new hydro power;
  • Minimize environmental impacts during operations; and
  • Reduce the costs of installing and operating new hydro power.
  • Add a HUG Siphon with its helical turbine.

HUG has introduced a one-size-fits-all approach, designed to be towed upstream and snapped into place against the dam. If managed well, HUG could have little impact on fish.

HUG promises minimal upkeep, minimal environmental impact, and making communities a good place to live because of cheaper electricity.

Helical Turbine
Helical Turbine

Why is HUG cost low? $0.04/kWh:  Low Capital Costs

HUG Example

 ONE HUG Siphon flows from a first height to a second height, the first height being up to only 5.7 meters above the second height: 

 Formula of Velocity at the Acceleration of Gravity: (Velocity)2 = 2 x g x s (Height or distance)

Acceleration of Gravity, g = 9.81 m/sec           Height = 5.7 m

(2 x 9.81 x  5.7 height = 10.62 )  Velocity = 10.6 m/sec (an object dropped from a height of 5.7 m)

The formula for Kinetic Energy is  KE = ½ x  A x V 3 x (35%) efficiency (A = area swept; V=Velocity).  The area of the throat of the HUG is 3.26 m2  

KE = ½ x  3.26 m2x (10.6)3 x .35 (efficiency) =.685 MW

The Sky Dam of 30 MW, with the same length of 39 m (129′) (effectively 13.7 MW)  HUG Siphons: 39 m/1 m (Diameter) =13 HUGs x 3 Spiraling Siphons x .685 MW =  26.7 MW

26,700 kW x 365 days x 24 hours x 90% available x $0.04/kWh= $8.45 million (Investment)                   

The HUG Revenue of 26,700 kW  is equal to 36% Return on Investment at $0.04/kWh compared to the cost estimates of $1.39/kWh for the $150 million Sky Dam Proposal.  

No, we have not made a mistake: $0.04/kW

Hydroelectric potential in the Pacific Northwest averages $3,500/kW to $8,500/kW.         A 26,700 kW Project would cost and equivalent of  $93,450,000 to $227,000,000 

Capacity Revenue Stream:  an auction price of $9.55/kW each month payments ($114.60/year) in New England:  $3,060,000/year (26,700 kW x $114.60):

$8.45 million Investment for 27.5 MW: ($3,060,000/$8,450,000) = 36% Return on Investment

What’s the holdup?

Small hydro entrepreneurs name one towering obstacle to building the smart dam: Government paperwork. Building a hydropower project of any size requires approval from overlapping state and federal agencies that represent the electric grid, the waterway or the environment, or that own the dam itself. Green-lighting even a small hydropower project can take up to five years. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) fees are up to $30,000 with a 5 year process. 

The biggest step will be to get this idea past the oil and coal industry, who usually find a way to keep anything that will reduce their demands for more oil and coal.

Untapped Hydro Resources

  1. An Irrigation System: NORTHydro.com
  2. A Rabbit and Fish Farm: AfriCAPITALISM.us
  3. An Agroforestry Intercrop System: LivingWaterIs.com
  4. The Charitable Arm: SunnyUp.net
  5. God’s Loveletters:  Godloveletters.com
  6. Thunder of Justice: ThunderofJustice.com
  7. Microfinance for womenLivingWaterMicroFinance.org
  8. Deliverance Is: DeliveranceIs.com




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