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Hydropower an Underused Resource

Low Dam

The Robert Moses hydropower dam at Niagara Falls was originally built not to provide electricity to the public but specifically to provide power to ALCOA aluminum. When the ALCOA facility downsized, the dam was actually purchased by the New York Power Authority and the 13 generators produce about 2,675 MW of power. Hard to believe that ALCOA could use all that power by themselves but the amount of electricity it takes to make aluminum is massive.

Why do we mention this? Hydro-electric power in this country has been misused and is vastly underused. It has massive capabilities and is not being utilized effectively.

As an example of misuse and poor judgement the majority of the power produced at Hoover Dam in Las Vegas Nevada is sent to southern California. So what is wrong with that? The farther you send electricity the more it dissipates and loses it's power. In the majority of electrical distribution when the power finally reaches your home it has lost as much as %50 of it's original voltage. Extremely inefficient. That is why the real answer for our energy industry is to build smaller grids. Right now we have three grids in this country. The East coast, West coast and Texas. Vast amounts of energy are lost in the transfer of energy all across the United States and in fact world wide.

In steps alternative energy! You would think this is the answer. Sorry it doesn't work that way. The Big Energy companies control the grid. You can sell the energy you produce back to them but it still can get lost or dissipated in the transfer. The big alternative energy producers know this is the case and have, for the most part, found there niche by producing on demand energy. This energy is stored and made available for peak demand periods when energy is high in cost and low in supply.

Hydropower is not used in a sensible manner. We are about to spend billions on infrastructure in this country but only a small portion is being put into rebuilding our dams. We have 91,000 dams in the United States of these 91,000 only 11,000 are hydro-electric. Harnessing the currently unpowered dams could generate 45 TWhr/yr. ABout %16 of our current usage.

The question is simple: Why don't we convert these dams to hydro-electric power?

The answer is a little more complicated. Or so they tell us. According to current reports hydro-electric produces %52 of the nations renewable energy but only %7 of the total energy consumption. The reason they do not convert the remaining dams to hydro-electric are varied and even mysterious. Below are the top five reasons for not converting these dams.

  • Environmental Concerns
  • Cost vs. Benefit (many dams are not conducive to be converted)
  • Lobbying by Oil Companies
  • The increased use of clean coal (there is no such thing)
  • Fracking and increased offshore oil production( both extremely bad for the planet.)
Oregon Dam

Currently 32 dams are schedule to be converted to hydro-electric dams which can increase capacity over the next couple of years by 330MW. The majority of this development will be in Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia. So 34 out of a possible 6,000 contenders equals(.0005%.) WOW. The first reason has little or no bearing. The dams already exist and the methane or disruption to the environment has already happened so let's increase our benefit by converting them.

Hydropower has it's pro's and con's but the advantages far out weigh the disadvantages.

Let's do a bullet list of both. Let's start with the advantages:

  • Clean It generates electricity simply by the flow of water and produces no CO².
  • Efficient Even the most efficient fossil fuels only convert 50% of the energy released to electricity, while hydropower convert more than 90%.
  • Renewable The water cycle driven by the sun makes hydropower reneable naturally.
  • Reliable As long as there is flowing water it is always on. Unlike wind and solar.
  • Cost Effective Hydro-electric has a low operating cost track record and can last 80 to 100 years


And now for the disadvantages.

  • Land Use When a dam is built it almost always ends up destroying communites and dsiplacing people.
  • Eco-System Destuction Building large dams can destroy local eco systems
  • Location Hydropower dams are massive and require large sections of land. All the good places have already been taken
  • Methane This happens as a result of the decaying matter at the foot of the dams. Less polluting then most greenhouse gases.
  • Earthquakes Large dams such as Hoover Dam actually sunk the earth beneath it causing small tremors that are still happening.

Okay let's think about what we just learned. All of the disadvantages are somewhat irrelevant. We are not talking about building new dams, displacing people or having to destroy any eco-systems. What we are talking about is retrofitting existing dams and upgrading current ones. We are also advocates of a better distibution system within the grid so we do not lose so much by the time it reaches it's endpoint.

We can make a difference if we speak loud enough. If you would like to get involved in making this difference we can use your help and can hook you up with the right groups that fit your passion. Get Involved Today.


Alternative Energy Books


  • By Tim Dennis

    In 1950 hydropower produced 360 billion kilowatts of power. In 2018 it produced 100 billion kilowatts of power.

    Read More

  • By Allison Lantero

    Starting in the late 1880s, Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla were embroiled in a battle now known as the "War of the Currents".

    Read More

  • By Energy.gov

    WPTO Issues RFI for Hydropower Program R&D Strategy and HydroWIRES Research Roadmap

    Read More