Monday, July 15, 2013

Episode 170 (7-15-13): Hydroelectric Power

Click to listen to episode (2:51).


From the Cumberland Gap to the Atlantic Ocean, this is Virginia Water Radio for the week of July 15, 2013.

This week, we feature another mystery sound.  Have a listen for about 20 seconds, and see if you can guess where these flowing and buzzing sounds were recorded, and what they have to do with each other.  And here’s a hint: if you’re well hydrated, you can power through this mystery.


If you guessed a hydroelectric power facility, you’re right.  That was water flowing through the Claytor Hydroelectric Project dam on the New River in Pulaski County, followed by the buzz of power lines carrying electricity from the facility.  As of 2013, Virginia has 28 hydropower facilities.  They range from the large—such as the 2400 megawatt-capacity, pumped-storage project on Little Back Creek in Bath County—to the relatively small, like the 0.4 megawatt-capacity, Big Island plant on the James River in Bedford County.  Whether from a large or small facility, all hydropower ultimately results from solar energy transferred to evaporated water, then to flowing water, then to mechanical turbines, and finally to electrical generators.  Collectively in 2010, Virginia’s hydropower plants produced about 1.5 million megawatt-hours of power, about two percent of the total electricity generated in the Commonwealth that year.  Most of Virginia’s hydropower plants are licensed for 30, 40, or 50 years by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  The relicensing process, therefore, is a key time for various groups and interests to comment on water levels, fish passage, shoreline development, and many other environmental and human effects of hydropower dams and the lakes they create.

For other water sounds and music, and for more Virginia water information, visit our Web site at, or call us at (540) 231-5463.  From the Virginia Water Resources Research Center in Blacksburg, I’m Alan Raflo, thanking you for listening, and wishing you health, wisdom, and good water.


[All Internet addresses mentioned were functional as of 7/15/13]

Claytor Hydroelectric Project on the New River, Pulaski County, Virginia, October 11, 2012
Side view of Claytor Hydroelectric Project, Pulaski County, Virginia, July 13, 2013.

City of Radford hydroelectric facility on Little River in Montgomery County, Va., July 13, 2013.

Turbine at Claytor Lake Hydroelectric Facility, Pulaski County, Virginia.  Photo courtesy of Appalachian Power Company, 7/26/13.

Turbine at Smith Mountain Lake Hydroelectric Facility, Pittsylvania/Bedford County border, Virginia.  Photo courtesy of Appalachian Power Company, 7/26/13.

A glimpse into the manufacture of hydroelectric-power equipment is shown in this 1997 view of the American Hydro Manufacturing Plant in York, Pennsylvania.  This plant manufactured the turbine shown in the previous photo being delivered to Virginia's Smith Mountain Lake facility.  American Hydro is now Weir American Hydro, part of the Weir Power and Industrial company.  Photo courtesy of Zack Stair, Harlesyville, Penn.

Application to Virginia State Science Standards of Learning (SOLs):
Information in this episode can support Virginia Science SOLs 6.5 and PS.6 (Physical Science).


“2010 Virginia Energy Plan,” Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals and Energy, online at

“Dam relicensing acknowledges that with power comes responsibility,” by Karl Blankenship, Bay Journal, June 2013, online at

“Hydroelectric Power: How it Works,” U.S. Geological Survey, online at

“Hydropower/Complete List of Issued Licenses,” Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), online at

Relicensing document for Claytor Hydroelectric Project, December 27, 2011, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,

“Virginia Electricity Profile 2010,” U.S. Energy Information Administration, online at

“Virginia Energy Patterns and Trends,” Virginia Center for Coal and Energy Research, online at

Recent Virginia Water News and Other Information
            For news, events, and resources relevant to Virginia's water resources, grouped into categories, please visit the Virginia Water Central News Grouper, available online at