Appalachian Power cleans up trees, debris near Virginia hydro facility

American Electric Power (NYSE:AEP) utility subsidiary Appalachian Power, which operates the Smith Mountain Project in Virginia, has announced plans to attack an unusual buildup of water surface natural debris on Leesville Lake, the lower reservoir of the two-lake hydroelectric generating project.

The lake has been beset since late 2015 and during recent heavy rainstorms with the inflow of debris—including large fallen trees—from Pigg River and other tributaries, the company said in an Aug. 9 news release.

Debris removal has been hampered by the loss of a mechanical skimmer craft that was dedicated by the company to the 17-mile long lake only last year and was recently declared unsafe for use on the water by company employees. Manufacturers’ production schedules and other factors will determine when the company receives delivery of a replacement for the skimmer—a new unit similar to a barge system now used on Smith Mountain Lake.

“Although we continue to remove debris with equipment currently available to Appalachian, we’ve essentially had a perfect storm of debris loading in Leesville,” said Elizabeth Parcell, hydro operations supervisor for Appalachian. “The company is working with the Leesville Lake Association, our own maintenance employees, and contract workers to address the situation as quickly as possible.”

Smith Mountain Project is a 636-MW pumped storage hydro facility on the Roanoke River that utilizes an upper reservoir (Smith Mountain Lake) and a lower reservoir (Leesville Lake). 

Water stored in Smith Mountain Lake passes through turbine-generators in the powerhouse to produce electricity and is discharged into Leesville Lake.  From there some water is released through the Leesville Dam or pumped back into Smith Mountain.

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Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at