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Hydropower

Most American hydroelectric power is generated through the force of falling water, by damming a stream or river to raise its water level and then allowing the water to fall against a turbine connected to a generator.

Texas has produced hydropower for more than 70 years.239 It still contributes to the state’s overall electricity supply, although in very limited amounts. While hydropower is the most common source of renewable electricity in the U.S., it provides just 11 percent of Texas’ renewably generated electricity.

The terrain in Texas is not well-suited to large hydroelectric projects that use swift rivers in locations with steep drops. Although the state has some limited potential for additional hydropower, there are no current plans to develop it. The importance of surface water resources for water supplies is what drives plans for new reservoirs in Texas, not the need for additional electricity.

Dams and reservoirs are expensive to build. The cost of the proposed Marvin Nichols reservoir in northeast Texas, for example, has been estimated at $2.2 billion, with no power plant included.240 And water dammed for use in city water systems is unlikely to be released for other purposes, even to generate low-cost electricity.

Cost

Per Million Btu No cost as an input for generating electricity.
Direct Subsidy Share of Total Consumer Spending Federal: 0.5 percent; State and Local: none.241
Notes Electricity generation from hydroelectric power entails transmission costs.

Economic Impact and Viability

Wages and Jobs Economic data on the Texas hydroelectric power industry are not available. Today’s hydroelectric dams are managed, monitored and operated with computers, often from a distant location. Few employees are required for their maintenance. Dam building creates jobs, but new dams currently planned in Texas probably will have no hydroelectric capacity. In all, hydroelectricity has a very limited impact on jobs and wages.
Regulatory Climate Hydroelectric generation is a mature technology with an established regulatory structure that includes dam safety standards. These facilities must obtain wastewater permits from TCEQ, a process that generally requires about one year.242 Building a new reservoir, however, is a lengthy process that can entail several years of planning, permitting, land acquisition and construction.
Texas Competitive Advantage Texas has few sites offering good conditions for hydroelectric dams, and most of these are already developed. Water management is taking precedence in the use of and planning for water resources.
Notes Hydropower can come online quickly in response to peak demand, provided water is available to be released from the reservoir. This makes hydroelectricity particularly valuable because it can be obtained almost instantaneously, and much less expensively than would be the case if utilities had to fire up additional fossil fuel plants to meet peak loads.

Availability and Current Infrastructure

Estimated Resources in Texas Little beyond current generating capacity.
Current Fuel Production N/A
Consumption in Texas 661,971 megawatt-hours or 2.3 trillion Btu (2006)243
Notes Texas’ current hydropower generating capacity is 673 MW.244

Environment, Health and Safety

Greenhouse Gas Emissions Hydroelectric power generates some greenhouse gases, primarily methane from decaying vegetation. The release of methane and CO2 is enhanced when water passes through turbines. The amount of greenhouse gases from hydropower varies and is not currently measured.245
Air Pollution (Non-Greenhouse Gas) No significant issues.
Solid Waste No significant issues.
Land Use Reservoir construction requires the flooding of land. Reservoirs also can lead to erosion and destroy wildlife habitat.246
Water Withdrawal No significant issues.
Water Consumption Due to the evaporation of the water held in reservoirs, hydroelectric power generation costs an average of 1,319 gallons of water per million Btu generated. Because the water stored in reservoirs usually has multiple purposes, including water supply, flood control and recreation, experts typically do not attribute these evaporative losses exclusively to hydroelectric power.247
Water Quality No significant issues.
Notes The initial energy input required to build dams is high but hydroelectricity is produced for decades afterwards. Damming rivers and creating reservoirs can harm ecosystems and decrease water flows.248

Fuel Characteristics

Energy Content Variable; kinetic energy is dependent on the volume of water and length of its fall.
Renewability Hydroelectric power is a renewable resource.

Other Issues

Dependence on Foreign Suppliers No significant issues.
Price and Supply Risks Risks include the limited supply of water and the cost associated with using reservoir water for generating electricity, rather than for other purposes, such as irrigation and municipal water supplies.
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