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South Carolina, Georgia lawmakers question hydropower from lakes

Friday, April 19, 2013 6:22 PM
Last updated Thursday, Sept. 19, 2013 9:43 PM
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COLUMBIA — Lawmakers in South Carolina and Georgia, concerned with lake levels in the Sa­van­nah River Basin, are turning their scrutiny to the U.S. Corps of Engi­neers’ hydropower.

About a dozen Geor­gia legislators who represent districts on the river met this week with their South Carolina counterparts. The effort is aimed at presenting a united front when they talk to the federal agency. They hope to persuade the corps to make tourism and economic development higher priorities when maintaining the lakes. The basin includes lakes Hartwell, Russell and Thurmond.

Georgia Rep. Alan Powell, R-Hartwell, asked whether the Obama administration’s energy agenda has had a harmful effect.

“Do you not remember how much the federal government under the current administration has done away with coal-powered energy production?” he said.

Calling it “total speculation,” Powell said the lakes might be lower than normal recently in part because of a change in the terms of the hydropower contract.

Rather than sell hydropower to utilities, the corps relies on the Southeastern Power Admin­istra­tion, a federal agency based in Elberton, Ga., to market the electricity generated at reservoirs operated by the corps.

“When a lake like Lake Hartwell goes down 16 feet, but they want to blame it all on drought, there’s a lot of issues I think need to be looked at, whether it be water flows or power generation,” Powell said. “I think there’s a lot more to it than meets the eye.”

Corps spokesman Billy Birdwell said Tuesday that nothing has changed with regard to how much hydropower the lakes are expected to produce.

“When we go into drought, hydropower takes a back seat, and water supply and water quality are the things we emphasize the most,” Birdwell said. “As the drought worsens and the reservoir continues to recede, then we cut back (hydropower) even further.”

Powell said whatever the cause of the lower lake levels, the lakes should be managed with a broader scope of priorities.

“It is my goal for this bistate conference to implore our federal elected officials to add to that mission statement of these lakes, tourism and economic development,” he said.

Birdwell said the corps tries to balance the seven priorities set by Congress: maintenance of the water supply, water quality, flood risk reduction, downstream navigation, recreation, hydropower production and environmental stewardship.

South Carolina Rep. Don Bowen, R-Anderson, who organized the meeting, said he would like the economic value of lakes to be prioritized more highly than in the past.

For instance, he said, about five years ago, Lake Hartwell lost the chance to hold a fishing tournament – and an estimated $15 million in commerce – to Lake Murray because Hartwell’s water was too low.

He said that when contracts with the Federal Energy Regulatory Com­mission and the Southeastern Power Admin­istra­tion come up for renewal in 2016, they could come with a mandate: When drought gets bad enough, peak power must be bought from the grid that’s produced from fossil fuels, such as natural gas, as opposed to water.

Bowen said the power could instead come from Duke Energy’s new gas-fired turbines.

“What we want to do is lessen our dependency on hydropower,” the lawmaker said.

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Bodhisattva 04/20/13 - 06:41 am
TrukinRanger 04/20/13 - 07:49 am
Why would Obama's name be

Why would Obama's name be brought into this story? Everyone knows the Corp of Engineers has had this messed up for as long as I can remember. I'm personally pro hydro-power, as long as there's enough flow to substantiate it. The Savannah river is not consistent enough to do so.

Riverman1 04/21/13 - 11:51 am
Stevens Creek Lake

If we're going to get into the issue of power generation at the expense of lake levels, let's also consider the SC Electric and Gas Dam at Stevens Creek on the river. That portion of the river bordering Columbia County on the GA side and Edgefield McCormick on the SC side is also known as Stevens Creek Lake. Fill the lake up and fill up Stevens Creek Lake and work from that situation. Keep a constant flow from both dams. Stopping electricity production may be a good idea, but the effect on both lakes should should be considered.

uga1988 04/20/13 - 11:19 pm
Mismanaged for years...

I have watched this issue for some years now. It is very curious that the COE consistently claims the need for power generation in addition to the ongoing drought as the primary reasons for severely decreased pool levels along the Savannah River Basin. Considering the closest lake to the area, Lake Oconee, has been full for the past five years debunks that myth. In fact, Oconee has been down three feet only one short time in the past five years. Thanks to my state representatives for teaming with their peers from South Carolina to get this straightened out and demanding answers.

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