Since its completion in 1984, efforts to maximize the benefits of the Tenn-Tom Waterway have focused heavily on increasing commercial traffic and, of course, recreational opportunities.
But a Georgia civil engineer believes the waterway, more specifically its locks and dams, can be used for another benefit — producing clean energy.
Jeremy Wells, a Coloradan now living in Macon, Georgia, has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to perform feasibility studies at two areas sites – The John C. Stennis Lock & Dam in Columbus and the Aberdeen Lock & Dam to determine if either are suitable for constructing hydroelectric power plants.
If granted the permit for the study, Wells hopes the results would support a power plant that would produced enough electricity for 5,000 homes from the Columbus site and 3,000 homes from the Aberdeen site.
Right now, it’s all conjecture, little more than a dream.
Any study would have to show that the costs of building and operating the plant would be profitable, which is the whole point of the feasibility study.
If that’s the case, we like the idea for several reasons.
First, it’s a good use of a resource already available, producing clean, renewable energy by harnessing the power of the water that already flows through the dams. Such plants would not impede commercial or recreational traffic and would operate under the authority of the U.S. Corps of Engineers.
There are hydroelectric power plants in 34 states and plans for four plants in northwest Mississippi are nearing the construction phase.
The primary objection to hydroelectric plants are the ecological impact of constructing the dams necessary to generate power. Obviously, that’s not an issue in this case. The dams are already here, so the ecological concerns are no longer an issue.
The feasibility study is a just preliminary step, so it would be premature to suggest that we will see hydroelectric power plants at either site in the foreseeable future.
But we applaud the effort to examine the untapped potential of the Tenn-Tom and especially the idea of adding another clean, renewable source of energy at a time when climate change has emerged as the world’s primary environmental challenge.