Groups to DOE: No Need to Explore New Dams

Region: 

Eighty conservation, recreation, faith-based and business groups sent a letter to the Department of Energy urging the Department to explore existing dams instead of building new ones to increase our nation’s hydropower capacity.

The letter was in response to the Department seeking information on challenges and opportunities to develop hydropower using new dams. In the letter, the groups state, “We should focus our resources and efforts on upgrading existing hydropower projects and adding hydropower capabilities to existing non-powered dams rather than on building new projects.”

In July 2016, the Department released a Hydropower Vision report that identified a potential to add 13,000 MW of new hydropower capacity through upgrading of existing projects and retrofitting non-powered dams with hydropower. In contrast, the same report only identifies 1700 MW of new hydropower capacity that could be added through new dam construction. The report identifies new dams as the “most costly and environmentally challenging class.”

The letter explains how building new dams can have enormous societal and environmental impacts. In addition, uncertainties in hydrology and hydrological regimes as predicted due to climate change can make new dams impractical and uneconomical. Finally, building new dams that will most likely generate nominal amount of power will not help address the growing need for adding flexibility to our nation’s electric grid.

The groups note that all of the sites in this country that are viable for hydropower development have already been developed, and all of these projects have come at a great cost to the environment and local communities.