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Nation’s Dams Could Provide Another 12 GW of Electric Power

Existing dams across the U.S. could provide more than 12 GW of additional electric generating capacity, the equivalent of roughly 15 percent of the nation’s hydropower capacity, according to a Department of Energy analysis.

Assessment of Energy Potential at Non-Powered Dams in the United States analyzed more than 54,000 sites that could be developed to generate power. If fully developed, these non-powered dams could provide enough energy to power more than four million households, the DOE found.

The report, funded by the DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, was produced by the Oak Ridge and Idaho National laboratories. An interactive map that allows users to examine dams with potential capacity greater than 1 MW accompanies the report.

The greatest hydropower resource potential was found at lock and dam facilities on the Ohio, Mississippi and Arkansas rivers, all of which are owned by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The top 10 sites alone could generate 3 GW of capacity, the DOE said.

The report is part of the Obama Administration’s effort to diversify the country’s energy portfolio while generating 80 percent of its electricity from clean sources by 2035. An expansion of hydropower could help diversify the energy mix, create jobs, and reduce carbon pollution nationwide, energy secretary Steven Chu said in a statement accompanying the report.

The analysis found many potential hydropower sites are located in areas of the country with fewer wind or solar resources. The report also contends that because hydropower provides reliable baseload power day and night, the development of exisiting dams could bring flexibility and diversity to the grid. Utilities would be better able to integrate traditionally intermittent renewable energy source such as wind and solar power to the grid as a result.

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