The average American home uses about 10,000 kilowatt-hours of electric energy every year. Hydropower is an important source of that energy. It provides electricity to light our homes and to run our appliances, televisions, computers, and many labor-saving devices. Just as important is the electricity provided to our schools, hospitals, stores, offices, farms, and factories. Hydropower is renewable, efficient, clean, reliable and flexible.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the largest operator of hydroelectric power plants in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The 75 Corps plants have a total installed capacity of 20,474 megawatts and produce nearly 100 billion kilowatt-hours a year. This is nearly a third of the nation's total hydropower output: enough energy to serve about ten million households, or roughly ten cities the size of Seattle, WA.
The earliest hydropower plants at Corps' projects were constructed at navigation dams, as joint efforts with electric utility companies. Later Congress authorized the Corps to construct its own power plants at dams being built for flood control, navigation and other purposes. The Corps is working hard to keep its power plants operating at peak efficiency and uses state of the art equipment to replace turbines, generators and control systems.
The greatest benefit from the Corps' hydropower program is the abundant low-cost energy the projects contribute to electric power grids. Because, hydroelectric power plants burn no fuel, operating costs are low and are immune to rising fossil fuel prices.
The Corps recognizes the need to balance between improving our immediate daily environment and in preserving the natural environment around us. The impacts of dams and reservoirs are mitigated to make the operation of these projects more compatible with the environment.
Another important benefit of many Corps hydro projects is recreational use of the lakes. These lakes are among the most popular recreation sites in the country. Visitors enjoy a wide variety of water-based activities and also make a major contribution to local economies.
The Corps collaborates on its hydropower efforts with the Department of Energy and a variety of other federal, regional and state agencies and private companies. The Corps is in the process of upgrading many of its facilities to increase efficiency and reliability. Because of its significant advantages over other energy sources, hydropower will continue to play an important role in meeting the nation's energy needs in the years to come.