Corps office in Nashville works on hydropower rehab projects

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Nashville District office is putting money into rehabilitating aging and somewhat neglected hydropower facilities within its district.

These hydro projects produce about $40m in annual revenue by converting water’s energy into 3.4 billion kilowatt hours of electricity in 28 generators at nine hydro plants in the Cumberland River Basin.

“This could meet 30 percent of Nashville area needs,” said Jay Sadler, mechanical engineer, Hydropower Branch, about the output of these facilities in a May 10 statement.

The Nashville District operates all of the Great Lakes and Ohio River Division’s hydropower plants, with nine on the Cumberland River having a total of 914 MW capacity. It remotely operates the Sault Ste. Marie hydropower plant in the Detroit District. Hydro plants on the Tennessee River are owned and operated by the Tennessee Valley Authority.

With a lack of federal funding for rehabilitation or replacement, these hydro plants have exceeded their typical design life of 35-40 years, having been in service on average more than 50 years, and the risk of component failure increases with time, the Corps noted.

“Keeping these aging generators and switchyards operating has been possible by the outstanding performance of the men and women who have operated and maintained this equipment over the decades with limited routine maintenance funds,” Sadler said.

Based on real time market prices, federal hydropower is a better deal than non-federal power 87% of the time, according to Sadler.

An additional funding source was authorized by Section 212 of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000, which allows hydropower revenues to be used for rehabilitating hydropower facilities in lieu of appropriations, which have been limited for this purpose.

Subsequently, the 2011 Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) among the Nashville District, the Department of Energy’s Southeastern Power Administration (SEPA), and 24 SEPA preference customers provides Section 212 rehabilitation funding for the next 20 years.

SEPA markets electricity from the Cumberland System to public bodies and cooperatives, referred to as preference customers. Receipts from those preference customers that are signatories to the 2011 MOA are forwarded for the rehabilitation, non-routine maintenance, and modernization of the Nashville District’s hydropower projects.

“In the next 20 years SEPA plans to direct more than $1.2 billion into Corps projects including $25-$40 million per year for rehabilitating Nashville District’s 28 hydropower generators,” said Mike Wilson, Deputy District Engineer for Programs and Project Management. “The higher figure includes anticipated increased power production at Wolf Creek and Center Hill Hydropower Plants when those lakes can be safely raised to their normal levels, and when the Corps successfully completes negotiations for an additional MOA to include the Tennessee Valley Authority and the Tennessee Valley Public Power Association.”

Current projects utilizing Section 212 rehabilitation funds provided through SEPA include:

  • Barkley Hydropower Generator Rewind – A complete generator stator rewind of Barkley’s Unit 1 generator that suffered severe damage in a phase-to-ground fault in December 2010 is nearing completion and the unit is scheduled to resume operations in August 2013. “The total project cost is expected to be near $11.5 million, with $5.5 million provided by emergency O&M funds and $6 million provided by the Section 212 Program,” said Jamie James, project manager.
  • Old Hickory Crane Rehabilitation – The 56-year-old, 275-ton Old Hickory powerhouse bridge crane was recently modernized and rehabilitated to ensure safe and reliable operation during upcoming rewind and turbine rehabilitation, according to Amanda Burt, project manager. The Old Hickory crane rehabilitation project was completed in early April 2013 at a cost of $1.5m in Section 212 funds, according to Eric Choate, contracting division.
  • Center Hill, Old Hickory Turbine-Generator Rehabilitations – Plans and specifications for turbine-generator rehabilitations at Center Hill and Old Hickory hydropower plants are being prepared and proposals will be solicited as funds become available, said Jeff Linkinhoker, project manager.

“Rehabilitation of the remaining hydropower plants will be accomplished as funding becomes available through this partnership of Federal and local agencies,” Wilson said.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.