Executive Director, Renewable Energy Division, Massachusetts Clean Energy Center
Beginning more than 65 miles from Boston, at the Quabbin Reservoir in Belchertown, the remarkable Massachusetts Water Resources Authority (MWRA) water system consists of over 100 miles of tunnels and aqueducts, and ultimately supplies safe drinking water to over 2.2 million customers of local water departments in 51 communities. On average, the MWRA supplies approximately 200 million gallons per day to its water system customers.
Within this water transmission system, there are three hydroelectric facilities. Two harness the energy of the water as it enters and leaves the Wachusett Reservoir in Clinton. The newest, an innovative turbine at the Loring Road storage facility in Weston, was recently delivered.
This is a very cool project in many ways, using novel engineering, saving money, and avoiding environmental impacts:
• Because most of the water system uses gravity, the MWRA has to decrease the water pressure before it gets delivered to some of the lower-lying communities in the Boston area. In the past, this has been done via pressure-reducing control valves between two storage systems. From the tanks, water is then distributed to member communities. So, the MWRA came up with a bright idea – since they were shooting water from one tank to another, why not use all that energy to generate power while they were at it? The MWRA asked local engineering firm Camp Dresser & McKee to design an innovative combination control-valve-plus-hydroelectric-power system to put between the tanks.
• MWRA estimates that the new hydroelectric turbine will have an average annual generation of 1,207,000 kilowatt hours. The power that’s generated will save the MWRA (and all of its customers) a lot of money on its electric bill. MassCEC gave the MWRA a little over $400,000 toward engineering costs, and most of the balance of the funding came from federal stimulus money.
• On the environmental side, the turbine hasn’t generated the environmental concerns about fish and wildlife impacts that often accompany hydroelectric projects. In fact, the project got a unanimous thumbs up from the Low Impact Hydro Institute.
This new hydroelectric project is part of the exciting and comprehensive renewable energy initiatives at MWRA that include energy conservation, wind, solar, and anaerobic digestion at the Deer Island Wastewater Treatment Plant. Click here to see the other renewable energy projects at Deer Island.