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Water Power

Developing New Hydropower Using Existing Non-Powered Dams

Company Name: Telluride Energy LLC
Program Office: Water Power
Location: Telluride, CO
Email: Kurt Johnson, President;
Award Amount: $75,000
Project Term: 12 months
Project Status: Agreement negotiation
Participating Lab(s): Oak Ridge National Laboratory


Hydropower is the largest renewable energy source for generating electricity in the United States. Right now, however, very little new hydropower development is taking place. According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), during 2015, only 153 megawatts of new hydropower generation was brought online nationwide.

The most cost-effective hydropower opportunities are likely to be developments on existing, non-powered dams, according to hydro resource assessments from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and other sources. The 2016 Department of Energy Hydropower Vision estimated a potential 4,800 megawatts of development potential at existing non-powered dams, some of which provide water for municipal drinking water via water treatment plants. This is likely the most cost-effective type of new hydropower development available in the U.S. But this opportunity has not been made clear to most water agency managers.

Working with ORNL will allow Telluride Energy to identify the most promising potential small hydropower (under 5 megawatts) project sites on existing non-powered dams providing water to a water treatment plant. The ideal site has a conduit connected to a water treatment plant that could be retrofitted with hydropower in order to take advantage of opportunities created by the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (HREA) of 2013. HREA allows qualified projects to use the 60-day federal review process. The research will clarify which project sites are positioned to benefit from the combination of expedited federal approval because of the HREA combined with the ability of water treatment plants to generate energy at an economically attractive rate via net metering.


The information needed to identify America's most promising potential sites for small hydropower development is currently scattered among different federal and state datasets.

This research project will leverage ORNL's national hydropower database on existing hydropower assets and non-powered dams. Several other datasets, including the National Hydrography Dataset, the National Elevation Dataset and state data on existing water treatment plants will be jointly analyzed to identify potential hydropower project locations that are potentially eligible for expedited permitting through HREA.


This project has the potential to transform the small hydro market. Currently, most managers of water agencies have no knowledge of the federal reforms created by HREA, and have little understanding of how small hydropower can be quickly built using existing water infrastructure, capturing mechanical energy which is currently unutilized in existing pressurized pipelines. If this project is successful, that will change.

As the small hydro industry develops, ultimately it could reach the point where all water agency managers realize that they should explore whether their existing water infrastructure includes opportunities for installation of small hydropower, which provides clean, reliable energy using proven technology.

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