Water and electricity don’t mix. It’s a statement you hear quite frequently in discussions about electrical safety.
But when it comes to generating electricity, water is actually a very useful resource.
Hydroelectric power generation, or the use of rushing water to create energy, can trace its origins back to the early 1900s, when the United States Bureau of Reclamation was established to manage, develop and protect water-related resources in the country.
Although humans had been harnessing the power of water for thousands of years, the first large-scale hydroelectric plants appeared in the United States in the early 1920s. Throughout the next several decades, more and more hydroelectric projects would develop, including the Hoover Dam in 1936, which would become one of the most well-known hydroelectric facilities in America.
Today, many power generation companies like PowerSouth Energy Cooperative, Baldwin EMC’s wholesale power supplier, use hydropower as a clean resource to include in their overall power generation mix.
PowerSouth and its cooperative members own and operate two hydroelectric power plants in Alabama. The Gantt Plant is located in Gantt, Alabama, at the site of a former gristmill on the Conecuh River. The Point A Plant is approximately five miles downstream near the town of River Falls, Alabama. The plants are operated and monitored using modern technology from on-site control rooms or a centralized control room at PowerSouth’s McWilliams Steam Power Plant.
The Point A and Gantt Hydroelectric Power Plants combine for a generating capacity of 8 megawatts – enough to power approximately 8,000 homes. Water is held in large reservoirs behind the dams with hydroelectric power plants below. The dams create strong water flows, which move turbine blades that turn the rotor of an electric generator.
Because nothing is being “burned” during the process of hydroelectric generation, water is a carbon-free, zero-emission energy resource. And because water is naturally reproduced, hydropower, by definition, can also be considered a renewable resource.
But, like most renewable energy resources, hydroelectric power isn’t constant. PowerSouth’s hydro plants operate only when river levels allow an adequate supply of water to turn turbines. Those levels can fall short during long periods without rain. Environmental considerations regarding fish and wildlife also place additional limitations on how much electricity can be generated using the river.
As of 2021, hydroelectric power accounts for just over three percent of PowerSouth’s overall energy generation. Unlike other resources, this percentage isn’t expected to fluctuate much over the next five years, and will maintain its place as a small, but integral, part of the electricity generation mix.