Originally created 08/05/98

Turbine projects' costs rise



A half-decade of environmental tests and fish-protection programs associated with Russell Dam's reversible turbines has added more than $29 million to the project's price tag.

The project, initially budgeted at $570 million, has now cost $599.6 million, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the hydropower dam and lake about 50 miles upstream from Augusta.

"Probably the biggest chunk that's been added is the environmental testing and associated hardware," said Corps spokesman Jim Parker. "We also did testing 4 1/2 years when we originally planned three years."

The tests were mandated by a federal judge after the Corps was sued in 1988 by the state of South Carolina and the National Wildlife Federation over claims the dam's reversible turbines would cause major fish kills.

Russell Dam's four reversible units can pump water from Thurmond Lake back to Lake Russell at night for reuse in power production during the day, when electricity commands higher prices.

But when the turbines are reversed, fish -- mostly herring and shad -- are sucked into the turbines and killed. Since the lawsuit, the Corps has performed many studies and installed a host of fish protection measures.

The associated, additional costs include:

Environmental studies, monitoring and assistance from the corps' Waterworks Experiment Station in Vicksburg, Miss.: $9 million.

Six years of testing contracts with Valley Construction Co., which included nets, net frames, equipment, and operations: $6.8 million.

Downstream improvements, including recreation fishing areas, waterfowl impoundment areas and three downstream fish reefs: $3.9 million.

A rock jetty designed to eliminate a large whirlpool near one of the reversible turbines: $1.1 million.

Fish protection systems that use lights, sound, bar racks and other devices to keep fish from being sucked into turbines: $2.3 million.

Payments to South Carolina to compensate for fish killed during tests and for salaries of a staffer to oversee testing: $1.8 million.

Although project costs have risen, Mr. Parker said the project still will prove profitable to American taxpayers.

"Every dollar, and then some, will be returned to the U.S. Treasury through the sale of electricity, not to mention the recreational benefits to local communities, which can't be measured in government dollars," he said.

The environmental tests and mitigation measures, he added, have created fishing areas, artificial reefs, waterfowl impoundments and other amenities that otherwise may not have been developed, he said.

Even with the added costs, the Corps estimates the project's benefit-to-cost ratio at 2.32-to-1, meaning Russell will earn $2.32 for every dollar invested.

Thurmond Lake cost $70 million, but that was in 1954 dollars. Lake Hartwell cost $89 million in 1963.

"If you updated those to current dollar figures, Russell's still more expensive, but it's still a profitable project," Mr. Parker said.