The modernisation project is being part financed by a US$12.95M grant awarded to Alcoa by the US Department of Energy under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The grant was issued by DOE’s Wind and Hydropower Technologies Program. Jacques Beaudry-Losique, Wind & Water Program Manager for the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, joined Bowen at the kick-off ceremony.

“Upgrades like the ones planned for Cheoah Dam represent significant opportunities to make environmentally sound hydropower even more cost-effective. This project will boost four turbines’ generating capacity by 28%, and serves as a terrific example of how the Recovery Act can expand clean energy while putting people to work,” Beaudry-Losique said.

When announcing the grant last year, DOE Secretary Steven Chu said, “One of the best opportunities we have to increase our supply of clean energy is by bringing our hydropower systems into the 21st Century. With this investment, we can create jobs, help our environment and give more renewable power to our economy without building a single new dam.”

DOE sought cost-shared projects that upgrade existing hydropower facilities without requiring significant civil works modifications to dams, allowing for them to be developed quickly to help create jobs and stimulate the economy.

The first phase of the modernization project will include the upgrade of two of the dam’s five power generation units. Specifically, first phase objectives for the project are to purchase four new high-efficiency turbines, generators, and transformers, upgrade the balance of plant equipment, and complete installation of two units.

Another two units will be upgraded during phase two of the project and will increase Cheoah’s total capacity to 140MW and add 40 to 50 years of expected useful life to the facility without requiring any modifications to the dam and without any significant regulatory delay.

In total the site has five units. Unit 5 was built in 1949 and the generator was rebuilt in 1995. Unit 5 is a 30MW unit and does not require replacement.

The modernization follows the recent relicensing of the Tapoco project by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The new 40-year license was effective March 1, 2005 and outlines protection, mitigation, and enhancement measures for the Project that address ecological resources as well as other beneficial uses of the Cheoah and Little Tennessee Rivers, including hydropower generation, watershed protection, endangered species enhancement, fish passage and recreational opportunities.

Construction began on Cheoah Dam in 1916 and was completed in 1919. At the time of completion, Cheoah was the world’s highest overflow dam at 225ft. The dam was made famous by serving as the backdrop of the jump scene in the 1993 major motion picture, The Fugitive, starring Harrison Ford.

Alcoa Energy is a global hydropower producer, controlling nearly 3000MW of generating capacity to provide for the energy needs of Alcoa’s worldwide smelting and refining system as well as the needs of regional wholesale markets. The business includes Alcoa Power Generating Inc., which owns and manages the 360MW Tapoco system.