NEW MARTINSVILLE - While the Ohio River "flow" has been slightly below normal for the past few years, New Martinsville/Hannibal Hydroelectric Plant Manager Chuck Stora said any source of clean renewable energy is a positive thing for the Upper Ohio Valley.
As the nation continues to search for a new direction for energy alternatives to supplement coal and natural gas, one of the cleanest options also is one of the oldest: hydroelectric power. The New Martinsville/Hannibal Hydroelectric Dam has been operating since 1988.
Four new hydroelectric power plants currently are being constructed along the Ohio River between West Virginia and Kentucky, and will be owned and operated by American Municipal Power.
Hydroelectric Plant Manager Chuck Stora noted that hydroelectric power continues to be a popular choice because it’s clean and renewable.
The push for hydroelectric energy is not just in inland waterways. A number of groups currently are researching how to harness the power of the oceans to generate electricity.
On the local front, Stora said hydroelectric power continues to be a popular choice.
"That's clean, renewable energy, you don't have to worry about pollution. The same water that goes through the first hydro plant ... goes through every one of them," said Stora, while commenting about the continued rise in hydroelectric power in North America.
Stora said with the New Martinsville plant having a power purchase agreement with FirstEnergy that runs through 2035, he does not foresee any major changes in the near future at the 24-year-old facility located next to the New Martinsville Locks and Dam.
He said the plant sells its power to Monongahela Power Co., a subsidiary of FirstEnergy, for distribution on the nation's electric grid. The New Martinsville plant is capable of producing 18.8 megawatts per hour on each unit, for a total of 37.6 megawatts per hour under ideal conditions.
Stora said while the plant produced 194,909 megawatts in 2012, down approximately 15,000 megawatts from the plant's annual average, the facility continues to make a profit despite dealing with some ongoing maintenance issues.
"You see a lot of stuff that has to be replaced," Stora added. But he said that's to be expected with a plant that is more than two decades old.
The hydroelectric plant, which uses the natural flow of the Ohio River to generate electricity, generates enough electricity to serve seven towns the size of New Martinsville, which has a population of approximately 7,000 residents. Unlike fossil-fueled power plants, the New Martinsville facility creates no air or water pollution and consumes no water.
The plant is constantly cleaning the water of the Ohio River as well, as screens were set up in the river to prevent debris from entering the hydro turbines. A giant trash rake with an 80-foot telescopic boom that extends to the river bottom is used to remove debris from the river.
That debris is then placed in containers to be hauled away or recycled.
Another hydro-related business in the area is Voith Hydro, a generator stator assembly facility servicing hydro plants. Voith is located in Monroe County, and manufactures parts for generators to be used at "run-of-the-river hydroelectric facilities" operated by American Municipal Power Inc.
Approximately 40 people are currently employed at the 32,400-square-foot facility, which started production in early 2010. Voith is located at the former Ormet Rolling Mill facility.
The stators that the company manufactures for the river projects measure 30 feet by 10 feet and weigh roughly128 tons. Once manufactured, they are put on barges and shipped to the locations they need to go.
Hydropower remains by far the largest source of renewable energy in the world, and represents about 8 percent of all power in the U.S. and more than 90 percent of all the renewable power generated in the U.S. Hydro provides more than 16 times as much energy as wind and solar power combined, according to Hydro Review.
Hydropower also supplies almost two-thirds of Canada's power, making it the world's largest hydropower producer, representing 13 percent of global output.
The U.S. is the world's second largest exporter of hydropower.
As for harnessing the ocean's power, leaders at Berkeley, Ca.-based start-up Sea Power & Associates think they've figured out how to harness the energy in waves.
Their Wave Rider technology is a series of lightweight concrete floats that sit one to two miles off shore. Floats are connected to a hydraulic pump that extends about 60 feet down to the ocean floor. The up-and-down motion of the waves creates pressure that drives the hydraulic pump, which then drives turbines to generate electric power.
The design "seemed to be well thought out and I didn't see any reason why it wouldn't work," David Navarro of the California Energy Commission told the Associated Press. "There's a lot out there. It's just waiting to happen."
The notion of wiring the waves has been around for a few decades. The problem up to now is that few of the ideas have been tested - although some companies outside the United States have produced power from the ocean - and the cost has been considered prohibitively high compared to other renewable forms of energy such as wind and sun.
While Japan and Northern Europe have forged ahead with government-funded sea power schemes, research dollars in the United States dried up after an initial surge in the 1970s.
The total power of waves breaking on the world's coastline could produce two million to three million megawatts, Navarro said. In good locations, wave energy density can produce an average 65 megawatts per mile of coastline. One megawatt can power about 750 homes.
"When you see a wave go by you think of it as the water moving. Well, it's not the water, it's the energy within the water that's making it move," says Navarro.
The ocean can produce two types of energy, thermal energy from the sun's heat and mechanical energy from tides and waves.
There are three basic ways of converting the kinetic energy that drives a wave into power:
In 2010, the world's first commercial wave power station, which uses the oscillating water column system, began supplying power to the grid on the small Scottish island of Islay. It's operated by Wavegen, a pioneer in ocean energy.
Wave energy has the advantage over wind and sun in that it is constant. There are some concerns about getting permits to place the devices and they would also need to be marked for navigational purposes. View obstruction could also be a concern, although many of the devices sit far offshore and would not be visible from land.