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2 minutes read

Mississippi to get a Hydropower Plant

Mississippi is poised to join the ranks of states with hydropower infrastructure. In 2016, the Mississippi Army Corps of Engineers unveiled plans to retrofit four dams across the state, transforming them into hydroelectric power plants. One such plant will be located at Sardis Lake, just a short drive from Oxford.

According to Rye Development, the company contracted by the Corps for this project, construction has not yet begun. “Sardis is currently in the design phase,” said Michael Rooney, Vice President of Rye Development. “In addition to completing design and engineering, we’re actively pursuing the required power purchase agreement to enable project construction.”

This agreement will determine the rate and price at which Rye Development sells the generated energy to the government. While the dam itself remains state property, the hydropower plant will be owned and operated by Rye Development.

Andrew Tomlinson, the Mississippi Valley Division hydropower manager for the Army Corps of Engineers, clarified that the Corps will have no operational or maintenance responsibilities once the project is completed. “Rye Development will own and operate the facility,” Tomlinson said.

The project must meet stringent engineering standards set by the Army Corps of Engineers. “The Corps reviews the plans and specifications to ensure they comply with all internal and other engineering body standards,” Tomlinson added.

A 2021 report from the Mississippi Public Service Commission Central District Office estimated that the four hydro projects in Mississippi would produce approximately 119,400 megawatt-hours of electricity annually, enough to power around 11,000 homes. The Sardis Lake project alone is expected to contribute about half of this energy output.

“The project is expected to produce 52 gigawatt-hours annually, translating to renewable hydropower energy for approximately 4,837 homes each year,” Rooney noted.

Jonah Jurss, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Mississippi, explained how hydroelectric power plants convert water movement into electricity. “Hydroelectric dams generate power by converting the potential energy of water at a higher elevation into mechanical energy, which is then used to generate electrical energy,” Jurss said.

These dams must be strategically placed in valleys to maximize power generation, but they also come with environmental impacts, such as disrupting natural water flow and affecting local ecosystems. However, since the Mississippi projects involve existing dams, Jurss views the development positively. “Using these existing dams to produce hydroelectricity is a net positive for the state,” he said.

One potential issue is the current condition of the dams. Lafayette County has 12 dams rated as “poor” or “unsatisfactory,” and neighboring Panola County has seven. While some of these dams are privately owned, most are operated by local governments. The Sardis Dam, inspected in 2022, has a “high” hazard potential classification, indicating significant risk if the dam were to fail.

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