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Hydropower Energy Output Up During February Cold Snap

Credit: Missouri River Water Management Division


The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers says it responded during last month’s cold snap, to generate more power. Dam operators increased hydropower along the Missouri River from Montana to South Dakota. 

A severe cold spell in February sent temperatures across the country into record low territory. 

Mike Swenson leads power production for the Army Corps’ Missouri River Basin Water Management Division. He says six hydropower plants in the region increased their energy output for about four days during the coldest weather. 

“We generated thousands of extra megawatt hours in energy assistance during that period. It was really short-term adjustments and releases, basically, intersystem regulation of the project. It won’t have any long-term impact on reservoir levels, and we didn’t change releases from Gavins Point during that period.” 

Swenson expects the plants to generate 9.6 billion kWh (kilowatt hours) this year. That’s close to their long-term average. 

February runoff from melt water was about 30 percent below average. The Army Corps expects below average runoffs to continue for the rest of 2021. 

Climatologist Doug Kluck says they expect dams to see lower water levels because of extended drought conditions. That’s expected to continue through the next few months. 

“One thing we’re trying to avoid this year is going into spring, especially summer, with this kind of pattern because the only thing summer does is dry things up more and it gets hot. We’re hoping for a good spring and wet season across the Missouri Basin, especially the upper basin.” 

The National Weather Service reports South Dakota will see above average temperatures and below average precipitation for the rest of March through May. 

-Contact SDPB reporter John Nguyen by email.