Raleigh eyes hydroelectric dam at Falls Lake
Posted September 21, 2011
Raleigh, N.C. — Raleigh is moving forward with a plan to develop a hydroelectric facility at Falls Lake Dam – the city's latest eco-friendly effort to generate electricity.
The City Council on Tuesday authorized city staff to file documents of intent with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and to begin searching for a consultant to help develop funding options for the design and construction of the dam.
A study by the city found that such a project, costing $5 million to $7 million, is feasible under certain economic conditions.
"We’re taking a careful look at whether hydroelectric power would pay for itself," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said Wednesday. "We have initial figures that make it look very good. Now, we want to take a careful look at it to see if we can go ahead."
Electricity generated from the dam would be enough to power several hundred houses, Meeker said.
"We want to make sure that the power generated would pay back that cost and also make a profit for the city," Meeker said.
Falls Lake is a major source of drinking water for the area, and some people are concerned about how a hydroelectric dam could impact the body of water.
Kenneth Walthroup, Raleigh's assistant public utilities director says the public shouldn't see any changes.
"There will be no change in the dam structure, no change in the release rate, no change in the elevations of the lake itself," Walthroup said. "The purpose of the project is to have a minimal impact on the environment and the appearance."
Walthroup said the city started working on the hydroelectric plan after a Vermont-based company expressed interest to use the dam to make electricity. City officials said they wanted to protect water levels.
The main costs associated with the project would be to install generators, which would be part of existing structures. There would be no changes in the operation of the lake, which Walthroup said, is what the city wants to ensure.
"If we do our job right, people will not notice a difference," he said.
Making electricity from water isn't the first eco-friendly endeavor that the city has undertaken.
"The city of Raleigh is becoming a significant energy generator," Meeker said. "We have $250,000 of gas coming out of our old landfill. We now have four different solar installations … So, if we can make the green power here in the city, let's go for it."
The city recycles methane gas produced by waste decaying in the landfill to produce steam to power manufacturing operations at a nearby plant at a profit of about $250,000 a year.
Solar panels help power hundreds of homes, and there are plans to put more on top of the Raleigh Convention Center downtown.
There are other examples, too.
Corn, fertilized by sludge generated at the Neuse River Wastewater Treatment Plant is being harvested and sold as livestock feed. The city is growing sunflowers the same way and refining them into biodiesel to fuel the city's diesel vehicles.