Saturday, October 27, 2018

Ohio River hydropower, 2017

Belleville has been dethroned and Meldahl rules, but barely.

Downstream view of the hydroelectric plant at the Meldahl Locks and Dam.

The Energy Information Administration recently released final 2017 for power plants nationwide, and there’s a lot of stuff to dig out of there. I started with the question of how the Ohio River hydroelectric power plants did in generating electricity last year, which was the first full year of production for three of them — Willow Island, Meldahl and Cannelton. Smithland’s plant came on line in July.

As you can see from the chart, total power production from the plants on the river’s navigation dams was fairly steady from 2016 to 2017, with some plants producing more and some less.

Net generation (megawatt hours)
Dam20152016Pct. change2017Pct. change from 2016Pct. change from 2015
New Martinsville Hannibal112,859122,9089%195,50159%73%
Willow Island-231,883NA230,462-1%NA
Ohio Falls (McAlpine)273,775316,43716%277,577-12%1%
*Began generating in 2017.
Sources: Energy Information Administration; the Ohio River Blog

In case you’re wondering, the zero production listed for Racine last year is not a typo. It’s real.

Here’s a news release issued by the Huntington District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Jan. 26, 2016.

HUNTINGTON, W. Va. – American Electric Power (AEP) has reported an issue with one of their sheet pile cells located at the Racine Locks and Dam hydropower facility on the Ohio River at mile 237.5.

AEP is developing plans for interim and permanent repairs to ensure the cell's stability, and AEP's contractor is on site to perform repair work. There may be intermittent impacts to navigation in order to undertake these necessary repairs.

Staff from AEP, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have visited the site to evaluate the cell and will continue monitoring until all repairs are accomplished by AEP.

The hydroelectric plant sits on the edge of the river, opposite locks built and managed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for navigation purposes.

According to EIA data, Racine was taken off line sometime in December 2016.

I emailed AEP to ask about the situation at Racine and when it will be back in production. AEP spokesperson Tammy Ridout emailed back, “We are working with the Army Corps of Engineers on this and there is no estimate at this time of when the plant will be back in operation.”

Back to Belleville … Usually the hydroelectric plant at Belleville is among the top generators on the river, but that was before larger plants were built downriver, where there is more flow and where plants can be built with three turbines instead of two.

As a side note to all this, when I was in Paducah at the end of July to talk with barge companies and others about infrastructure needs, someone — I forget who — began talking about how to get other entities to pay into the Inland Waterways Trust Fund. He or someone began talking about a hydroelectric plant planned for another dam — either Newburgh or John T. Myers.

He said the Smithland plant was built too close to the dam. It does not provide enough horizontal clearance on the navigable pass during high water when the locks are shut down. That effectively closes the river there to navigation during floods, he said.

So, the plan now is to dig into the 2017 power plant numbers and see what might be of interest to river fans and/or number nerds.