The Army Corps of Engineers is exploring the idea of automating and remotely controlling its three federal hydropower projects along the Savannah River.
“The overall goal is to explore all the options we have to increase our efficiency while maintaining the safety and reliability of these projects,” said William “Jay” Palmer, the chief of the Savannah District hydropower technical center.
Each of the three projects is operated and managed by on-site operators who staff control rooms 24 hours a day all year long.
Although computerization and other improvements have been made at the sites over the years, each dam was built in a different era, with varied technology.
Thurmond, the oldest, went online in the early 1950s, followed by Hartwell in the ’60s and Russell in the 1980s.
“They are three separate islands right now,” Palmer said.
The Corps issued a recent request for proposals to solicit parties interested in conducting a feasibility study for automating and consolidating the projects.
“There are two main aspects we’re looking at,” Palmer said. “The first is local plant automation, in which we see what we can do to modernize the system. That would be local to the plant and something to make them more efficient.”
A second facet of the study would explore opportunities for remotely controlling the network of reservoirs, turbines and power transmission equipment.
“The idea would be to look at the system as a whole to see if there are more efficiencies we can get through by remote operation schemes,” he said, noting that similar efforts have been successful at other Corps districts.
Any such changes could be years away, but the upcoming study should shed more light on potential improvements.
The three projects, whose reservoirs encompass about 156,000 flooded acres at full pool, typically generate about 1.2 megawatt hours each year.
That electricity is marketed by the Southeastern Power Administration to electric cooperatives and other customers throughout the region. Such sales return about $70 million to the U.S. Treasury each year.