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College Plays Role in Hydropower Expansion

May 17, 2011 – Hydropower is a clean, renewable source of energy that has been used in the United States since the late 1800s. Hydropower accounted for 25 percent of the country’s electricity prior to the Great Depression, and capacity had tripled by 1980. Hydropower now makes up only 7 percent of electricity production, yet it is still the largest renewable source. “North America is at the cusp of another hydropower expansion, through the modernization of existing plants, adding turbines at existing non- powered dams, and building small, non-commercial turbines and water current projects,” said Donald Orth, the Thomas H. Jones Professor of Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences. Recent analysis predicts that America’s hydropower industry could add up to 1.4 million jobs by 2025 if a national policy mandating a 25 percent renewable electricity requirement is adopted.

The college is positioned to assist in these endeavors by producing a specialized workforce to deal with the issues of operations, maintenance, regulation, fish and wildlife damage mitigation, and fair distribution of benefits. “Faculty members have expertise in river and reservoir water quality, fish protection and screening at hydropower plants, population viability analysis, and environmental analysis of the costs and benefits of alternative operation regimes,” Orth added. All of these skills are essential to the process of licensing new hydropower facilities as well as the rehabilitation and upgrade of existing facilities.

During a recent collaborative project with Alcoa Power Generating, Inc., the U.S. Forest Service, and North Carolina wildlife and environmental management agencies, Orth performed a follow-up evaluation of 2004 license requirements for an Alcoa project on North Carolina’s Cheoah River along with Associate Professor Andrew Dolloff and doctoral student Ryan McManamay. “The study was instrumental in isolating key pathways by which fish populations are influenced by dams via channel changes as well as streamflow changes,” said Orth. The study showcased a collaborative approach to research, allowing the college to provide a new restoration template that will be used for restoring native stream flora and fauna in the upper Tennessee River basin.

    CNRE Newsmagazine Spring 2011 Cover

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