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Viewpoint: Thoughts about our lakes, dams and hydros

By Bill Hansen, Town of River Falls

• Dam removal costs! The poster "Potential cost of Dam Removal" from the Kinni Corridor Project Session 5, "Dam Removal Alternatives," puts the cost of dam removal and related expenses at around $12 million. This number doesn't include cost to replace lost electric generation capacity, loss of hydro infrastructure value, or costs relating to bluff stabilization and other aesthetic considerations.

• Profit! Referring to the April 18, 2017 River Falls Utility Report "2016 Committed Net Position Hydro Analysis," the hydros provided a net revenue of $125,840 in 2016. For the report period 2012-2016 the hydros have been profitable every year resulting in a five-year net revenue of $378,000.

Electric customers can choose to pay a premium for "green energy." Our utility then specified this amount of electricity to be from renewable sources and pays a 2-cent per kWh premium for it. Buying part of this energy locally and crediting this 2-cent premium to the hydros would have given them an additional $42,000 profit in 2016.

The poster "Economics of Continued Hydro Operation" from Kinni Corridor Project Session 5, projects hydro economics for the years 2017-2047 with a net revenue of $1.9 million for this 30-year period.

3. Coal! At a conversion rate of 1 pound of coal to produce 1 kWh of electricity it would've required burning 2.1 million pounds of coal last year to match our hydro production.

4. Poor business advice! Special interests proposing total destruction of the dams and hydros point out that in the mid 1990s the city invested over $840,000 in upgrading Junction Falls dam. They conclude that because of a past historic cost we should now destroy this profitable part of our local, renewable power structure. This is like an owner remodeling his store and then, when his business is prospering, he abandons it.

5. Hydros perform! Dam destruction proponents contend that solar could easily replace the hydros. Looking at the 12-month period, August 2016-July 2017, the RF solar garden produced 314,739 kWh of electricity while they hydros produced 2,039,242 kWh. The hydro production was over six times that of the solar garden. The Powell Falls hydro alone produced 572,877 KWh or nearly twice the production of the solars.

I favor all renewable energy. Hydros produce 24/7, year-round. Solar is limited to daylight hours and performs best in summer months. At the cost of $420.000 for our current solar garden, it would require an investment of over $2.2 million to add enough solar capacity to match the hydros. Maintain and improve the hydros. Invest more where you will get the most local renewable energy. Support both local hydro and solar energy options.

6. Sediment questions! There has been limited actual continuing scientific study of the Lake George sediment issue or even agreement on the possible need for sediment downstream. What is the actual composition of the transported sediment, rate of transport, particle size and distribution? How do our suspended and deposited sediments differ? How much sediment is contributed by the city storm sewers? How have changing agricultural practices, improved river bank management initiatives, require runoff control of construction sites, no sand used on the city streets in winter, and the building of more than 80 rainwater retention ponds changed the rate, amount, and type of sediments entering the lakes? What are the goals? What are the benchmarks? What are the baseline numbers and the measuring tools? Can the dam waste gates be used to provide metered release of sediments? If Lake George is 50 percent full after 100 years, will it take another 100 years to be filled 100 percent? If it ain't broke, don't fix it.

7. When someone tells you "it isn't about the money," it probably is!