Richard B. Russell Dam and Lake

Hydropower - Value to the Economy


  Generators at the Dallas Dam (OR)

The greatest benefit from the Corps' hydropower program is the abundant low-cost energy the projects contribute to electric power grids. Because hydroelectric powerplants burn no fuel, operating costs are low and are immune to rising fossil fuel prices. In addition, most of these projects were built years ago, when construction costs were low. These factors help to make Corps hydropower among the least costly sources of electric power available today.

In most parts of the country, hydropower can carry only a portion of the system power load. The objective is to use this limited amount of energy in a way that will keep the overall cost of electricity to the consumers as low as possible. The highest-value use of hydropower is for "peaking" -generating as much energy as possible in the peak demand hours of the day. This saves having to produce this power at high cost thermal peaking plants. Not all hydro plants can be used for peaking, but their power output is always used as efficiently as possible within the given project operating limits.

 Fish ladder and spillway at John Day
 Dam (WA)

In years of ample runoff, hydropower plants produce extra energy. This is used to displace more expensive generation at fossil fuel powerplants, which further helps to reduce consumers' electricity bills.

Corps hydropower pays its own way. The full cost of building and operating these plants must be repaid, with interest, in fifty years. This includes a share of the dam, reservoir, spillway, and fish ladders costs.


Concern about our Nation's limited energy resources is growing; many wonder if the output of hydropower plants can be increased. Four main options are available:

  • - Installing new high-efficiency turbines to increase energy output
    - Installing uprated generators or adding more generating units to increase the power produced in peak demand hours
    - Upgrading aging equipment at older plants with never, more reliable components
    - Modifying project operation to increase powerplant productivity.

The Corps considers these and other options as well as environmental factors in its ongoing program of powerplant renovation and upgrading.

 Recreation: An important benefit
 of many Corps hydro projects is
 recreational use of the lakes.
 These lakes are now 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

Hydropower and its Value to the Nation (Other Links)

The information published on this website was compiled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers: The Institute for Water Resources, in partnership with the Hydroelectric Design Center and the Hydropower Analysis Center.