The Ohio River will soon be generating electricity, thanks to hydroelectric power projects like the one currently under way at the Willow Island Locks and Dam-and more projects are on the way along the Ohio and Muskingum rivers.
"There's a lot going on with a fair amount of industry and governmental support for improving energy-generating alternatives. And there's a significant amount of untapped hydro power in the U.S.," said Andy Grimm, associate professor of petroleum engineering at Marietta College.
He said there are currently six hydroelectric project sites being developed on the Ohio River.
"Once set up you don't have to feed fuel to hydroelectric power plants," Grimm said. "No coal, uranium or natural gas is needed. We're just tapping the flow of the river with very little change in the water level."
Grimm said hydroelectric and other alternative energy sources will help overcome concerns about global warming and carbon dioxide being pumped in the air from coal-burning power facilities.
American Municipal Power is currently developing the Willow Island Dam into a hydroelectric facility that will provide an additional 35 megawatts of electricity for the region.
Groundbreaking for the project took place in July and AMP officials say it will be ready for operation in 2015.
The Willow Island hydro project will provide jobs for 200 to 400 workers at the peak of construction and, once the facility is online, up to nine permanent operating positions will be created, according to information on the AMP website.
Boston-based Free Flow Power, Inc. is also applying for licenses to develop hydroelectric power projects on seven of the nine dams on the Muskingum River between Marietta and Zanesville, according to company spokesman and director of project development Jon Guidroz.
"Two potential projects of the original nine dams were Lukes Chute dam in Morgan County and Ellis dam in Muskingum County, but they did not meet our criteria," he said.
Licensing is being sought for projects on the remaining locks and dams at Devola, Lowell, Beverly, Malta/McConnelsville, Rokeby, Philo and Zanesville.
"Once we receive the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) license we can proceed with the hydro projects, but the licensing process is a long one," Guidroz said. "We have a preliminary permit that's issued years before a license can be achieved. It's not a real permit, but more of a placeholder so that we can continue to seek licensing for a project."
Guidroz said Free Flow performed a series of studies last year necessary to develop the FERC license application.
"Now we're preparing draft license application for seven of the nine dams," he said. "The application should be complete in April. Then there will be a public comment period."
By the fall of 2013 Free Flow should be able to file for the project license, with construction and operation of the low head power projects to follow in 2014.
"We believe that's a realistic goal at this time," Guidroz said, adding that the hydroelectric projects will mean dozens of jobs during the construction phase, and a few permanent positions at each power house once the units are completed.
He said a total 22 megawatts would be generated from all seven of the "low head" units-enough to power about 19,000 American homes.
"Head" is a measure of the pressure of falling water used for hydroelectric power generation. The higher the head, the more available power. Muskingum River dams are classified as "low head."