US Army Corps of Engineers
Institute for Water Resources

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Value to the Nation: Hydropower

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is the largest operator of hydroelectric power plants in the United States and one of the largest in the world. The 75 USACE plants have a total installed capacity of nearly 22,000 megawatts and produce over 72 billion kilowatt-hours a year. This is approximately 25% of the nation’s total hydropower output.

Hydropower offers numerous advantages over alternative fuels. It is:

  • Renewable. The earth provides a continual supply of water from rainfall and snowmelt.
  • Efficient. Hydropower plants convert about 90 percent of the energy in falling water into electricity.
  • Clean. Hydropower plants do not emit waste heat and gases.
  • Reliable. Hydropower machinery is relatively simple, which makes it reliable and durable.
  • Flexible. Units can start quickly and adjust rapidly to changes in electricity demand.

USACE hydropower plants play a key role in the economy by offering an affordable power source, which helps keep overall energy prices down. USACE hydropower plants are also better for the environment than other sources of electrical power because they don't use fossil fuels. Without hydropower, the U.S. would have to burn much more coal, oil, and natural gas every year. The increasing availability of hydropower also helps reduce America's dependence on other nations for fuel.

USACE collaborates on its hydropower efforts with the Department of Energy and a variety of other federal, regional and state agencies and private companies. USACE is in the process of upgrading many of its facilities to increase efficiency and reliability. Due to its significant advantages over other energy sources, hydropower will continue to play an important role in meeting the nation's energy needs in the years to come.

For more information read our Hydropower brochure (pdf, 1.64 MB) or view the Hydropower fast facts.

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The greatest benefit from the USACE hydropower program is the abundant low-cost energy the projects contribute to electric power grids. Because hydroelectric powerplants burn no fuel, operating costs are low and are immune to rising fossil fuel prices. In addition, most of these projects were built years ago, when construction costs were low. As a result, these plants are playing a significant role in keeping electricity costs affordable for consumers, creating a positive impact on the economy. Read more…

Water moves constantly through a vast global cycle. The energy of this water cycle, which is driven by the sun, is tapped most efficiently with hydropower. Hydropower plants capture the energy of falling water to generate electricity. Read more…

Hydropower is better for the environment than other major sources of electrical power, which use fossil fuels. Hydropower plants do not emit the waste heat and gases—common with fossil-fuel driven facilities—which are major contributors to air pollution, global warming and acid rain. The mining and drilling required to acquire fossil fuels for other power sources also have a significant negative environmental impact. Read more…

USACE currently operates 75 hydropower plants nationwide, which generate over 72 billion kilowatt-hours of power per year. USACE hydropower plants account for approximately 3 percent of the nation's total electrical capacity. USACE's largest hydropower plants are located in the Pacific Northwest, but there also are important projects in Midwest, South Central and South Atlantic states. As concerns about the nation's limited energy resources grow, USACE is working to increase hydropower output, efficiency, and reliability by upgrading and modernizing its facilities.

Fast Facts

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