There’s a potential new, modern way to utilize one of the nation’s greatest engineering feats. Hoover Dam, an engineering marvel of the 20th century made of concrete and steel continues to generate a significant amount of energy to power the southwest, but it may eventually serve another purpose.
The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power wants to build a $3 billion pump station and pipeline powered by solar and wind energy.
“It hasn’t been done before for the Hoover Dam,” said Dr. David James, Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at UNLV.
“We’re trying to look long-term for how we integrate higher levels of renewables,” said Reiko Kerr, the senior assistant general manager of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s power systems.
The other purpose is allowing the Hoover Dam to reach more of its potential.
“It runs at a very low capacity factor at about 20 percent which means there’s a lot more water you can run through to produce more energy,” Kerr said.
The possible plan calls for using excess energy to power the pump station, which would be located down the Colorado River from the dam.
The pump will send water up the pipes back into Lake Mead, and when renewable energy isn’t available, water will flow through the generators again to create power for the grid.
“That provides peaking power when it’s needed and it generates a profit for the operator of the reservoir because they’re selling electricity at a higher rate than what they spent to pump the water uphill, so it does work,” Dr. James said.
However, concerns remain over the operational plan, pumping at night or during the day.
“We have to further explore that,” Kerr said.
And it has to be explored without negatively impacting the environment or others downstream.
“Water operations are primary,” said Kerr. “Electric operations follow that in priority, and we have to maintain that.”
Details about the proposal still need to be worked out, including where precisely the pumping station would be located down the Colorado River.
The Bureau of Reclamation sent the following statement regarding the potential dam project: