Garrison hydro power surged in 2011

Garrison hydro power surged in 2011

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The Missouri River that poured through the Garrison Dam last year, flooding low-lying areas, threatening homes and scouring new channels, also generated

2.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity - well above the dam's long term average of 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours. At one point in May, Basin Electric Power Cooperative took its Antelope Valley Station Unit 1 off line because of low demand.

With the force of floodwaters roaring through the Garrison turbines, there was an excess of electricity on the market.

Before there were big lignite coal-fired power plants, before the Bakken oil play and before wind farms, the turbines at the Garrison Dam were generating electricity.

When North Dakota looks at its energy production mix, at its potential to be a long-term serious energy exporter, the state should not dismiss the renewable energy that comes from harnessing the Missouri River. True, the power generated and the revenue - more than $30 million annually - belong to the federal government.

For a long time and for most people, the Garrison Dam's missions of flood protection and generating hydro-electric power were lost to Lake Sakakawea and the Missouri River's recreational benefits - salmon and walleye fisheries, waters sports, summer cabins, marinas. That changed in 2011, as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers released flood-stage levels of water from the dam and the case for flood protection was made week after week through the spring and summer.

Now we read these "better than average" numbers for production of electricity. Garrison generated 2.6 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in 2011, compared to 2.1 billion in 2010, 1.5 billion in 2009 and only 1.3 billion in 2008. The volume of electricity produced reflects the volume of water in the system.

In addition to the costs related to flooding, which were estimated at $2 billion throughout the Missouri River system, the corps has been upgrading the generators at Garrison. In 2009, the corps used $8.9 million in stimulus funds to upgrade the transformer equipment for the dam's five generators. In 2000, the corps replaced the spinning parts inside the turbines.

North Dakota exports oil. The state exports electricity generated by lignite coal-fired power plants and a growing number of wind farms. And for a long time now, the state has sent electricity generated at the Garrison Dam singing into the grid, enough power for 200,000 customers. That's not a bad piece of work.

 

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