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Viewpoint: Hydros made RF 'green' before 'green' was cool

By Bill Hansen, Town of River Falls

Our city-owned hydroelectric power facility is a valuable, profitable, debt-free asset. Our hydroelectric dams are fully functional and generate power 24 hours-a-day, every day, all year. The hydros do not need sunlight, clear skies, constant wind, or coal to function.

Our current hydroelectric system consists of two bottom-draw hydroelectric dams. They were just inspected in October 2017, passed inspection, and re-inspection isn't scheduled for another 10 years.

RELATED: RF to hold public hearing Jan. 15 on future of Kinnickinnic hydros

Burning 1 pound of coal generates one kilowatt hour of energy. Our city-owned hydros generate 2 million kilowatt hours of energy on average each year. That means our hydros prevent the burning of 2 million pounds of coal every year! If the dams are destroyed, a fully functioning source of renewable energy has been removed forever. Alternative sources to hydroelectricity, like coal, fossil fuels, solar, wind, or nuclear all have big prices tags and/or negative impacts. No energy source is perfect or without cost. Remember, we already own our hydros and the Kinni is already rated Class 1 trout water, including the lake channels, with the dams in place!

On average a typical Wisconsin home uses 8,400 kilowatts per year (ElectricChoice.com).

Therefore, our city-owned hydros make enough energy to supply the entire yearly electrical needs for approximately 240 River Falls homes. We own the dams and the energy they produce. If they are destroyed we will need to buy that energy from other companies. In a crisis situation, our hydros produce enough energy that they alone could power our entire city water supply system. In this time of world unrest, owning our own hydroelectric power plant is a great emergency backup system for River Falls.

It would take adding five more solar gardens, like the one north of town (by Sterling Ponds), to equal the energy provided by our hydros. River Falls doesn't even own the current solar garden, which cost nearly $500,000 to build. Rather, numerous local residents helped offset the construction expense by subscribing toward the cost. In return, each donor receives a few dollars credit off their monthly electric bill for their investment. Local response to that donor plan was good, so keep this idea in mind for future hydro improvements.

Our current hydros are fully functional, but they run at 60 percent efficiency due to following the DNR's "Run of the River" protocol. New technology updates are available that could further improve the efficiency and generate more electricity with less water flow. That means that if we invested $500,000 (the equivalent of just one new solar garden) we could increase the efficiency of the hydros to over 90 percent.

So, just like upgrading to a higher efficiency furnace in your own home, with a reasonable investment in our hydros, we could increase the money the hydros make, increase the number of homes they could power annually, and prevent even more coal from being burned each year, every year. River Falls Municipal Utilities should create a similar donor contribution program and work to increase our renewable energy output and profits. Let's make more renewable energy and help protect the earth we all share.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) website states, "Hydroelectricity is the most important and widely used renewable source of energy." The USGS also states, "The trend for the future will probably be to build small-scale hydro plants that can generate electricity for a single community."

We already have the equipment, we have the water source and lakes, and we own the plant. Be proud that River Falls was "green" before "green" was cool! Why would we ever spend $10+ million to remove our lakes and destroy our own town asset?

The decision to relicense the dams will be made Feb. 28, so get involved now! Join forces with Kinni Corridor Lake George Alliance and contact your city council members. Ask them to relicense our dams and hydros, support lake clean-up and restoration, and continue the use of our hydroelectric plant.

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