River power?

Saturday, May 2, 2009

A company called Free Flow Power Corp. is looking into the feasibility of placing 180,000 small turbines in the Mississippi River from St. Louis to New Orleans -- including a batch off Cape Rock Park in northern Cape Girardeau -- to generate up to 1,800 megawatts of electricity. The cost estimate is $3 billion.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is holding 10 public meetings along the river, including St. Louis and Memphis. A site visit is planned for 9 a.m. May 6 in Cape Girardeau at Cape Rock Park.

During the meetings and site visits, it can be hoped that anyone with an interest in this proposal would get answers to these questions:

Has this been tried before? If so, where and with what success? Where would the $3 billion come from? Is the company counting on government funding? How would the turbines, placed below the river's navigational channels, affect barge traffic? What about water releases from dams on the upper Mississippi? Would they change? How would all those turbines affect fish? What is the expected energy return on the investment?

This novel approach could produce electricity without burning fossil fuels or relying on nuclear power. But there obviously are a lot of questions to be answered. The company says the earliest it would apply for licenses for the turbines is two years down the road.

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