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The Boardman Valley Preservation Society

Advocates for the scenic Boardman River as well as our hydroelectric dams, and beautiful ponds. Along with you, we endeavor to preserve and restore their economic, historic, and social value.

Our Mission Is To Do Good


The U.S. Energy Information Administration: Hydropower Explained
Solar energy heats water on the surface, causing it to evaporate. This water vapor condenses into clouds and falls back onto the surface as precipitation. The water flows through rivers back into the oceans, where it can evaporate and begin the cycle over again. Source: National Energy Education Development Project (Public Domain) Image of how a hydropower plant works. The water flows from behind the dam through penstocks, turns the turbines, and causes the generators to generate electricity. The electricity is carried to users by a transmission line. Other water flows from behind the dam over spillways and into the river below. Hydropower Generates Electricity Hydropower is the renewable energy source that produces the most electricity in the United States. It accounted for 6% of total U.S. electricity generation and 67% of generation from renewables in 2008. Our Nation's first industrial use of hydropower to generate electricity occurred in 1880, when 16 brush-arc lamps were powered using a water turbine at the Wolverine Chair Factory in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Thursday, December 10, 2009 - 10:23 a.m.
The Boardman River Drawdown Showdown of 2009

In 2009 Grand Traverse County received a permit to draw the water down in the Boardman River changing life as we knew it on the river, and endangering animal habitat. BVPS believed that there were many good reasons not to lower the river, but rather than describe them to you, here is the official transcript of the discussion as it took place. "We're on the record in the matter of Edwin Martel, Bruce Carpenter, William Lane, and Claudia Agemak versus the Department of Environmental Quality, Docket 09-866-AA. This is the time set for oral argument in this matter."

Community Hydroelectric Power
Hydroelectric power is simply electricity generated by the force of falling water. The term “community based” is to distinguish small local plants from the large regional hydroelectric projects. We view these plants as an asset to the community they serve, providing energy as well as local environmental, economic, and social benefits. Like wind and solar, hydroelectric power is a renewable energy source. Community Hydropower Consulting, LLC supports the environmentally responsible development of hydroelectric sites. We focus on developing existing water diversions and impoundments, including municipal water systems. From such sites, our clients harvest unused energy, with little or no environmental impact.

The Boardman River Dams: by the Numbers
The Boardman River Dams have a maximum output of between 2.1 - 2.3 megawatts (MW). Using 2.1 MW operating at an average of 67% of capacity yields about 1.4 MW average output (about 1900 continuous horsepower.) This yields 12,264 MW hours per year (this is between the 11,000 MW hour estimate from Ed Rice at Traverse City Light and Power, and the 13,200 MW hour estimate from Consumers Power.) The Friends of the Jordan River Watershed estimates that 13,000 tons of wood chips are required to generate 1 MW for a year (8760 MW hours.) For the dams 1.4 MW average output this equals 18,200 tons of wood chips per year or 49.9 tons per day. Using another Friends of the Jordan estimate, that 1,200 tons of wood chips equates to 28 acres of forest land, this yields, for the above wood consumption, about 425 acres per year ( think of it as more than ten 40 acre plots), or 1.16 acres per day, or 0.66 square miles per year (about 2/3 sq. mile per year.) These figures are either large or small depending on your perspective (or if it involves your favorite forest), but the dams do equate to about 1/3 of TCL&P's requirement for 10% renewable energy by 2015. Although this area is ideal for wind generation, the complexities involved with siting, financing, constructing, transmitting the power, and coordinating its availability with the baseline generation means that wind power is still many years away. It should also be noted that hydroelectric power would be part of the baseload capacity, while wind power is not, because of its unreliable availability. The use of hydroelectric power will still not meet the 10% requirement by 2015, but combined with one state-of-the-art multi-megawatt windmill would satisfy it. Hydropower will meet the interim requirement for 2013 while a windmill is under construction. (Research by Douglas Burwell) [Editor: a 10Mw Biomass plant burns 15-tons of chips each hour, every hour, every day].

Hydropower Licensing and Consideration of Environmental Values
There are over 2,000 hydropower dams in the United States with licenses issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) under the authority of the Federal Power Act (hereinafter “Act’). Beginning in the early 1990’s, many of the licenses for these dams began to expire. In the next 15 years, 593 licenses will expire, affecting thousands of miles of rivers nationwide.. In the licensing process, dam owners can improve the health and recreational use of our rivers by:

Fish Passage Technologies: Protection at Hydropower Facilities
This report describes technologies for fish passage, and those for protection against turbine entrainment and mortality, with an emphasis on FERC-licensed hydropower projects. OTA identifies three areas for policy improvements. First, to establish and maintain sustainable fisheries, goals for protection and restoration of fish resources need to be clarified and strengthened through policy shifts and additional research. Secondly, increased coordination is needed among fishway design engineers, fisheries biologists, and hydropower operators, especially during the design and construction phases of fish passage and protection technologies, to improve efficiency. Finally, new initiatives with strong science and evaluation components are needed to advance fish passage technologies, especially for safe downstream passage.

The Federal Role in Fish Passage at Hydropower Facilities
Hydroelectricity provides over 10 percent of the electricity in the United States and is by far the largest developed renewable energy resource in the nation (figure 5-1). At least 25 million Americans depend on hydropower for their electricity needs. Conventional hydropower plants total nearly 74,000 megawatts (MW) of capacity at roughly 2,400 plants. Pumped storage provides an additional 18,000 MW of capacity at about 40 plants. The undeveloped hydropower resource potential in this country is significant. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission estimates that approximately 71,000 MW of conventional capacity remains undeveloped (81,82). This chapter examines the federal role in fish passage and protection at hydropower facilities (box 5-1). Federal involvement in managing nonfederal hydropower issues includes: licensing, monitoring, and enforcement; identifying mitigation plans for hydropower facilities; and conducting research on and development of fish protection technologies.

Dams Protect Rivers from Eel Infestations
Of 15,570 dams blocking American eel habitat in the United States, Busch et al. (1998) reported that 1,100 of these dams are used for hydro-electric power. Virtually none of these 1,100 hydro-electric dams provide, or are required to provide, safe and efficient upstream and downstream passage for American eels to utilize their historic freshwater habitat. Virtually none of the 14,470 non-hydroelectric dams reported by Busch et al. (1998) provide, or are required to provide, safe and efficient upstream and downstream passage for American eels to utilize their historic freshwater habitat. The Maryland Department of Natural Resources, MBSS Newsletter March 1999, Volume 6, Number 1 states: "The most dramatic example of the decline of American eel abundance is dam construction on the Susquehanna River. Prior to the completion of Conowingo and three other mainstem dams in the 1920's, eels were common throughout the Susquehanna basin and were popular with anglers. To estimate the number of eels lost as a result of construction of Conowingo Dam, we used MBSS data on American eels from the Lower Susquehanna basin and extrapolated it to the rest of the basin above the dam. Our best conservative guess is that there are on the order of 11 million fewer eels in the Susquehanna basin today than in the 1920s.

How to calculate your power potential

head (m) x flow (l/s) x gravity (10) = power available (w)

For example, if you have just 0.25 l/s and a head of 20 metres, the power available would be 20 x 0.25 x 10 = 50 watts

Note: What you consider practical or a useful amounts of power, may well differ from other peoples ideas so bear that in mind when you see figures sometimes quoted for minimum usable head and flow. If all you want is to provide is a trickle charge to keep a battery toped up when not in use for long periods of time, you might be happy with a fraction of a watt from a home made system rather than buy expensive solar panels or have to keep buying new batteries.

Dam Power
Obviously not everywhere has flowing water and even where there is, it not provide enough power for practical use. The amount of power that can be provided by a stream depends on to two things. These are called the head and the flow.

The head (measured in metres(m)) is the vertical drop from the top of system (where the water enters your pipe/penstock) to the bottom (where it is released). Head should not be confused with the distance between the top and bottom of the system (which should be kept to a minimum). It is the difference in height, the drop, that counts. The greater the head, the higher the potential power. There are several ways you might measure the head. You could check an ordinance survey map for contour lines. You could measure the straight line distance between top and bottom and the angle between the two and use trigonometry. You could even borrow an altimeter (some gimmicky watches have them).

The flow (measured in litres per second (l/s)), is the volume of water which flows past any given point in the system within the period of one second. It needs to be measured before the turbine is in place in order to find the potential power because the flow will be reduced when it is fitted. The greater the flow, the higher the potential power. There are several ways to measure flow but the simplest is to use a bucket of a known capacity and time how long it takes to fill. Eg. If it take 5 seconds to fill a 10 litre bucket you have 2 litres per second.

Calculating the power (measured in watts (W)), is done by multiplying the head and flow by the force of gravity (around 9.8 m/s/s which you can't easily change significantly without leaving the planet). For ease of calculation you could use 10 m/s/s as the force of gravity - no one will notice (unless they are very unfit).

The main parts of a hydro system are the penstock and the turbine. The penstock is any artificial method by which you get water to your turbine from the highest point in your system with the minimum of obstruction and resistance. Penstock may be in the form of pipes or an artificial channel but sometimes the landscape may have provided a natural solution.

Other factors that effect the amount of power available include the resistance experienced by the water while on its way to your turbine which is directly proportional to the length of your penstock. If you are using pipe it is important to use a large enough diameter and keep it as short as possible while still providing the amount of head you want. Avoid any sharp bends or joins etc.

The type of turbine you use will dictate how much of the available power you can actually provide to the generator and the efficiency of the generator will dictate the amount of electrical power provided. You will probably get less than half the available power. Your losses don't end there. If your turbine is located a great distance from the site you plan to use you power you may also have transmission losses in the cable. But what the hell, even with the losses, something is better than nothing.

For more detailed information on the subject of small scale hydro power you might like to consult these outside links:

The Micro Hydro Centre - Research, information and development projects.
Pico hydro website - Articles, newsletter, useful guides.
Hydropower literature - A comprehensive list of books on the subject. We can't recommend any specifically because we haven't got read any yet, however we are sure that the books published by Intermediate Technology on the use of pump as turbines and the use of induction motors as generators both sound very useful and would be a great addition to our library (hint hint).


Please support us with a contribution: The Boardman Valley Preservation Society, P.O. Box 11, Grawn, MI 49637