Is hydropower “green”? The prevailing view – the one used by California in its renewable portfolio standard, for example – is that it can be, if done carefully and under 30 megawatts (MW) in capacity. And that’s one of the kinds of projects the Obama administration said it wants to see more of as it awarded $17 million to 16 projects in 11 states.
These new grants from the U.S. Departments of Energy (DOE) and Interior (DOI) stem from a memorandum of understanding reached between the two agencies back in April. The goal of the agreement was to work together to support projects that will develop new hydropower technologies, including pumped storage hydropower, and address environmental issues with conventional hydropower. A competitive grant process launched with that agreement resulted in the awards just announced.
The biggest portion of the money – $7.3 million – is for 10 small hydro projects. The goal is “to research, develop and test low-head, small hydropower technologies that can be quickly and efficiently deployed at existing nonpowered dams or constructed waterways.” For example, the Bend, Ore., company Earth By Design is getting $1.5 million for work on a project to develop and test a “new low-head modular hydropower technology” in a canal, with the aim to produce cost-competitive electricity.
Most of the rest of the money – $6.8 million – is going to two storage projects. The idea is to use pumped storage hydropower to enable the integration of wind and solar energy, two intermittent renewable sources that basically need to be used when they become available. The big winner in this category is a project by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which hopes the 400-MW Iowa Hill Pumped Storage Development will support integration of variable renewable energy resources in California.
A full list of the grant recipients can be found on the DOE website.
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