Hydroelectric power: Outdated practice or overlooked possibility?

Living in Michigan you would assume it to be a no brainer that if we could use water to create energy we should, right? Then why are hydroelectric dams throughout Michigan actually being removed?  The main reason is many of the dams in Michigan are extremely outdated and don’t create enough energy to sustain much of anything. Dam building occurred early in the 1900’s until the mid 1930’s. The principle element of a dam is to utilize the natural flow of falling water to rotate a turbine that sends currents to a generator ultimately creating electricity. The volume of the water and the height from which it falls determines how many megawatts of electricity a dam can create. By the late 1970’s many dams across Michigan were shut down. Most were created to supply cheap electricity for lumber mills and small entities of the time. Lack of sufficient energy creation and their scattered nature has led to cease in use. Today many of Michigan’s dams are actually being removed. But does the cost outweigh the benefits?

The current attitude in Michigan is there is more value in removing the dams, than retrofitting them to restore hydroelectric production. Federal funds are more readily available for removing dams because of the positive environmental impacts. Dams have a detrimental effect on the natural flow and ebb of a river’s ecosystem. The removal of dams allows for normal sediment load dispersal and provides open passageways for fish to move up and down stream. However simply removing the dam doesn’t immediately restore the natural river channel alone. The circumstances differ greatly from site to site. Readings provided examples of altering river flow upstream or use of special culverts to mimic historical river tendencies and return the river channels to their previous states before the dams.

Overall I think Michigan should find a way to harness hydroelectric power because there is so much water around us. However the practice of damming a river and disrupting the natural ecosystems may have a much greater effect than providing cheap electricity. Also in the articles a new exploratory form of electricity creation with water was discussed. It is called hydrokinetic. It is energy created using the natural flow of water and can create power with turbines placed in a flowing water environment. This science is a better option because it produces cheap and clean energy from water without the cost of blocking, rerouting and disturbing the natural river ecosystem.

Sources:

“Removing Dams is Best Option for a Healthy Aquatic Environment” http://www.michigan.gov/dnr/0,4570,7-153-10366_46403_59159-207826–,00.html

“Renewable hydroelectric power in Michigan” http://www.ferris.edu/energy/presentations/2010/Mich-Hydroelectric-James-Bernier-Consumers-Energy.pdf

ARIK ZALESKI

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4 responses

  1. There was a proposal in Pentwater MI to make this new energy by placing turbines out miles from the coastline, unfortunately it was voted down because they were afraid it would hurt tourism and make the lake unsightly. I am not sure who can see 5 miles and beyond clearly with the naked eye, but these though they villagers could. I am just so frustrated with people worrying about things that don’t matter and blocking the way for things that could be useful for not only the economy but the environment as well.

    rachael hindman

  2. I think its possible for a dam to have multiple purposes, other than producing electricity, newer dams can also act as a water filtration system. Water is becoming scarce partly because of the water pollution and this is a possible aid in that dilemma. This is my opinion….by the way great article.

    Anas Aldasouqi

  3. I agree that alternative forms of energy such as water energy could be very beneficial. However I also wonder about the detrimental effects that dams could cause. I feel like the natural ecosystem is very important to maintain because when the ecosystem of an area is disrupted, it means that everything in the area is affected, whether negatively or positively. Therefore, I think that the alternate method of harvesting energy from a river would be the best solution since it would not harm other aspects of the environment.

  4. The proposed energy ideas seem like they would be really beneficial, however I would still think that the dams we have now are more beneficial than they are harmful. I know fish often hang around structures and it’s often a great place to go fishing, is it possible that these outdated dams can be potential habitats for the fish and other wildlife? Just food for thought. Interesting idea though with the new turbines, seems like it would work great.

    John Arpino

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