Turbines in Mississippi River potential alternative energy source

The Mississippi may in a few years be laced with giant underwater turbines using the force of the river’s flow to generate power if Free Flow Power Corp, a Massachusetts-based hydropower developer, is allowed to install hydrokinetic turbines at as many as 55 sites along the Mississippi River.

The turbines would have a diameter of 10 feet and be installed below navigation depth. Each turbine spins to generate roughly 1,600 megawatts of power which would then have to be transmitted ashore to the power grid or to industry sites, according to the Vicksburg Post.

However, some of those who work on the river are concerned that the turbines could cause navigation problems. These worries were aired during a public meeting held by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in Baton Rouge last month, according to the New Orleans-based Times Picayune.

Z. David DeLoach, owner of the towboat company DeLoach Marine Services, told the newspaper that he was concerned about what would happen if low water conditions forced barges into the deep-water river bends where the turbines may be installed.

The American Waterways Operators, the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association, and the Gulf States Maritime Association told the newspaper that they want to help plan for this potential energy source to ensure that the turbines do not increase shoaling, delay vessels, erode levees or cause other navigation problems.

Jon Guidroz, who is director of product development at Free Flow, told the newspaper that navigation’s concerns were “on our radar screen. We understand that this is a river that is first and foremost for navigation. It’s a number one priority for us to make sure that we are safe with our turbines. It wouldn’t make economic sense for us to get hit by barges.”

According to Guidroz, if Free Flow installs turbines in the deep river bends below Baton Rouge where the water flows fastest, that will generate the most electricity and will also ensure that the turbines, affixed to posts in the river bottom, will be below the 45- to 55- foot draft of the largest deepwater vessels and will also be out of the way of Corps dredging.

At the meeting, the Corps said that the company has to file an environmental impact statement before it can consider what impact the turbines might have on levees or other factors, the newspaper reported.

Towns and developers from Alaska to Florida have filed with FERC for preliminary permits to develop hydrokinetic energy projects. These projects are in their initial stages; approval and licensing is expected to take up to four years.

Retired Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, immediate past president of the Mississippi River Commission and former commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Vicksburg District and the Mississippi Valley Division, is now chairman of Free Flow, according to the Vicksburg Post.

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