Massive Turbines Eyed For Mississippi River Electricity Project


A U.S. startup is working on a plan to install hundreds of 40-kilowatt hydrokinetic turbines, each the size of a large jet engine, along the bottom of the Mississippi River, an ambitious renewable energy project developers say could someday produce more than one gigawatt of electricity — enough to power 250,000 homes.

While the technology remains relatively unproven, the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission recently granted the company, Free Flow Power, preliminary rights to explore the potential for dozens of turbine locations along the 2,320-mile river.

Although most efforts to develop hydrokinetic energy projects so far have focused on tidal or wave energy, the company says river installations have significant advantages. “The water flows in one direction, it doesn’t have salt in it, and, in the case of the Mississippi, people have spent 100 years tracking water flows and velocities,” said Henry Dormitzer, the company’s chief financial officer.

The challenges, however, will be to show that the turbines will not impact marine life or the massive volume of traffic on the river. The only commercial hydrokinetic river project currently in use is a single turbine installed on the Mississippi by Texas-based Hydro Green Energy near Hastings, Minn.

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Yale Environment 360 is an online magazine offering opinion, analysis, reporting and debate on global environmental issues. We feature original articles by scientists, journalists, environmentalists, academics, policy makers, and business people, as well as multimedia content and a daily digest of major environmental news. Yale Environment 360 is published by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale University. We are funded in part by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation and by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. The opinions and views expressed in Yale Environment 360 are those of the authors and not of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies or of Yale University.

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