Reclamation dams demonstrate value of hydropower during recent western U.S. heatwave

Media Contact: Robert Manning, Chief of Public Affairs, 202-513-0554, rmanning@usbr.gov

For Release: August 21, 2020

Glen Canyon Dam and Powerplant in Arizona.
Glen Canyon Dam and Powerplant in Arizona.
WASHINGTON, DC -- The Bureau of Reclamation this week responded to unusually high energy demands across the western United States, demonstrating hydropower’s integral role as a renewable, reliable, abundant, carbon-free source of electricity that provides great value to the West and protects our nation’s energy security.

Examples of Reclamation’s actions this week include:

  • Glen Canyon, Morrow Point, Hoover, Davis and Parker dams ramping up power production in response to California’s electrical emergency and to help stabilize the western electrical grid.
  • Central Valley Project maximizing generation and reserves to make more energy available during peaks as well as shifting pumping operations to off-peak periods to reduce system load.
  • Pacific Northwest federal dams generating enough electricity to meet load requirements for the Columbia River Basin and selling surplus power to California via the Bonneville Power Administration.

“Reclamation is the second largest hydropower producer in the Nation. Our multi-purpose dams are once again responding to the needs of the American people,” said Dr. Tim Petty, Assistant Secretary for Water and Science for the Department of the Interior. “We are proud to provide this key domestic energy resource while fulfilling our mission to manage, develop, and protect water and related resources in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.”

Hydropower dams are a crucial part of the interconnected electrical grid in the western United States and provide the unique ability to respond almost immediately to system emergencies and changes in demand. An imbalance in the demand for electricity and the amount of power available can cause generation units to shut down, resulting in power outages. Reclamation’s dams are positioned to quickly generate power during sudden or prolonged utility shortfalls, making energy available to balance the load and prevent outages. These shortages include heatwaves and fluctuations in wind and solar output.

“The ability of hydroelectric dams to change output rapidly can offset fluctuations under extreme weather conditions and in wind generation or other intermittent resources, such as solar,” said Reclamation’s Hydropower Senior Advisor Max Spiker. “Without flexible backup generation, renewables could not match the energy needs of homes and businesses. In addition, hydropower can quickly compensate for other shortages in generation, such as California recently experienced and for which Reclamation provided emergency support and grid stability.”

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The Bureau of Reclamation is a federal agency under the U.S. Department of the Interior and is the nation's largest wholesale water supplier and second largest producer of hydroelectric power. Our facilities also provide substantial flood control, recreation opportunities, and environmental benefits. Visit our website at https://www.usbr.gov and follow us on Twitter @USBR; Facebook @bureau.of.reclamation; LinkedIn @Bureau of Reclamation; Instagram @bureau_of_reclamation; and YouTube @reclamation.