Despite a rough beginning more than two decades ago, the Abiquiu hydroelectric facility’s third turbine officially turned on when Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) pushed the start button at a ceremony at the facility April 21.
In the mid-1980s, the original contractor hired to install two, 6-megawatt hydroelectric generators at Abiquiu Dam, N.M., said the project was unbuildable and walked off the job. Overcoming this setback, the Los Alamos Department of Public Utilities (LADPU) hired another contractor who completed the project and the two generators have produced electricity for more than two decades.
Now, the first major American Reinvestment and Recovery Act (ARRA)-funded hydropower project in the nation is complete, and a third turbine is boosting the facility’s renewable energy generation capacity by 22 percent.
The 3-megawatt turbine allows the facility to operate when water flow levels from the dam are below or above the capacity of the other two turbines. The electricity generated from the new turbine is enough to supply approximately 1,100 homes annually.
The new turbine works with low water flows, 75-235 cubic feet per second (CFS), like in the winter, when less water is released from Abiquiu Dam, said Dennis Garcia, chief of the District’s Reservoir Control Branch.
While unable to be present at the start-up ceremony, U.S. Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in an official statement, “Today marks a major milestone in securing America’s clean energy future as we celebrate the completion of the Department of Energy’s first major Recovery Act-funded water power project. The Abiquiu Low-Flow Turbine Hydropower Project highlights the clean energy potential and local economic benefits that come with the environmentally responsible use of our rivers.”
Water released from the dam by the Corps is channeled into the Abiquiu hydroelectric facility. The water turns the blades of the turbines, which spin a shaft connected to a generator and electricity is generated.
“That same water then continues down the Rio Chama with no water loss, no created pollutants and no greenhouse gasses emitted into the air,” said LADPU Manager John Arrowsmith. “Hydropower is a clean and renewable energy source in the truest sense.”
All the speakers at the ceremony mentioned the many natural resources New Mexico has, which can lead the nation in the production of renewable energy.
Speaking at the start-up ceremony, District Deputy Engineer Maj. Richard Collins said he believes “the Corps, [Los Alamos] County and Department of Energy have taken a small but very significant step in the right direction toward the goal of helping meet the Nation’s need for reliable, affordable and environmentally sustainable hydropower.”
Lt. Gen. Robert Van Antwerp, soon to retire as the Corps’ Chief of Engineers, said that the Corps’ goal is “to stretch energy security to see how far we can go.”
“We take these words very seriously. We must always seek and push for new solutions to meet the needs of our country,” said District Operations Chief Mark Yuska.
The new turbine stems from a March 2010 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) among the Department of Energy, Department of the Interior and the Corps of Engineers. This MOU signified a new approach in hydropower development. These three federal agencies will cooperate more closely and align priorities to support the development of environmentally sustainable hydropower. They also agreed to focus on increasing energy generation at federally owned facilities and exploring opportunities for new development of low-impact hydropower. The Corps is the largest hydropower owner in the nation.
Corps and County Amend Agreement to Produce More Power
Last summer, the District and Los Alamos County, N.M., amended their existing Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) to produce more renewable power when possible at the Abiquiu hydroelectric plant.
The Corps and County agreed that the Corps’ owned and operated Abiquiu Dam facilities will receive 100 percent qualifying renewable energy credits (RECs) from the new low-flow turbine. In exchange, the District will proactively manage water releases from the dam to maximize energy production, while respecting flood control and water right obligations.
The RECs are important to the District, because federal agencies must begin meeting energy management requirements as required by federal statutory laws and regulations.
One such law is the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which established energy management goals and requirements relative to a 2003 baseline. The goal: a 30 percent energy reduction by fiscal year 2015. Other acts and laws deal with renewable energy. The EPAct 2005 set the goal that a minimum of 7.5 percent of energy used by the federal government in fiscal year 2013, and beyond, come from renewable energy.