Due to the abundance of natural resources in North and Central America, the region has continued to count on hydropower for much of its electricity generation, as has been the case for decades.
Many countries have adopted policies to increase the share of renewables as they seek to transition to a low-carbon economies. Modernising the existing hydropower fleet and developing new projects to meet energy demands and enable renewable development is increasingly important.
In Canada, hydropower continued to provide approximately 60 per cent of the country’s total annual electricity generation, and represents more than half of its total generation capacity. In 2021 nearly 3 GW of new projects continued to advance toward completion. At the Keeyask power plant in Manitoba (695 MW), four more units were brought online in 2021. A total of five units are now online, and the remaining two units are scheduled for completion in 2022.
The government of Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, also asked utility Ontario Power Generation to look to new hydropower projects as part of a pathway to a zero-emissions electricity grid, and announced policy changes to accelerate the development process.
This year there were also developments in two transmission projects planned to send hydropower from Quebec to US markets. The Champlain Hudson Power Express project was selected after a competitive bid to bring clean electricity directly into the City of New York. However, another project saw a setback. Work was halted on the England Clean Energy Connect (NECEC) transmission line, which was planned to deliver hydropower from Quebec into Massachusetts, after voters in the State of Maine chose to reject the project in a referendum.
The 824-MW Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Generating Station, part of the Lower Churchill Project, was completed in November and released to the Newfoundland and Labrador System Operator (NLSO) for service. The associated Labrador-Island Link transmission line is due to become fully operational in 2022.
While the U.S. has the third largest installed hydropower capacity in the world, hydropower only accounts for about 6 per cent of its total annual electricity generation.
An ongoing project to upgrade the Bad Creek pumped hydro station in South Carolina resulted in an increase of 70 MW of installed capacity. The summer of 2021 was marked by widespread, intense drought conditions, particularly in California. Despite this, hydropower plants in the state provided a significant amount of generation from April to September 2021.
In September 2021, the Department of Energy (DOE) announced an US$8.5 million funding opportunity to improve the operational flexibility of the U.S. hydropower fleet. Under this solicitation, DOE’s Water Power Technologies Office will fund up to six awards to advance hydropower technologies to enhance grid reliability through its HydroWIRES (Water Innovation for a Resilient Electricity System) initiative. The mission of HydroWIRES is to understand, enable and improve hydropower’s contributions to reliability, resilience and integration in the rapidly evolving U.S. electricity system.
In November 2021, the U.S. passed the House Infrastructure and Investment Jobs Act. The bill included investments for the waterpower industry, including US$909 million for conventional hydropower, pumped storage and the marine energy industry. This infrastructure bill recognises that hydropower and marine energy will play a major role in decarbonising the country’s electricity grid. It creates a new grant program that provides US$553 million in DOE grants to support grid resilience, dam safety upgrades and environmental enhancements at existing hydropower facilities. The measure also bolsters existing hydropower incentive programs, including US$125 million to incentivise adding hydropower generation to existing non-powered dams and conduits, and US$75 million for hydropower efficiency improvements, such as new low-head turbines.
In early 2022, conservation organisations, hydropower industry groups and indigenous tribes sent a package to Congress and the White House to improve hydropower processes and restore authority to native American tribes. Specifically, the package proposes amendments to the Federal Power Act to restore autonomy and self-determination for tribal nations, retain states’ decision-making authority, enhance cooperation and improve clarity.
The Mexican government is focused on increasing hydropower capacity through the rehabilitation and modernisation of the state-owned company Comisión Federal de Electricidad’s (CFE) existing assets. In 2021, the bidding process began to modernise the first nine hydroelectric plants. In 2022, the bidding processes for four mini-hydroelectric power plants and three dam facilities will continue, and CFE will carry out modernisation studies of 16 mini-hydroelectric plants. The culmination of these efforts is expected to result in an increase of hydropower generation capacity by over 300 MW. In October 2021, the Mexican government tabled a bill that demonstrates its preference for prioritising hydroelectric power supplied by a public utility over privately owned wind and solar generation, as the nation restructures its electricity network.
Costa Rica produced almost all of its electricity from renewable sources in 2021 once again, with hydropower representing 74 per cent of the energy mix. This year marked the lowest thermal generation in the country since 1956, due in part to hydroelectric generation, which was 12 per cent higher in 2021 than in 2020. In addition, the Reventazón hydroelectric plant operated by the Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) became the world’s first hydropower plant to obtain climate bond certification using new Hydropower Criteria released by the Climate Bonds Initiative. The project is also a recipient of the IHA Blue Planet Prize, awarded in 2019 after it was independently assessed using the Hydropower Sustainability Assessment Protocol.
In El Salvador, work continued on 3 de Febrero (previously named El Chaparral). a flagship 65.7-MW hydropower project that will contribute towards the decarbonisation of the country’s electricity system. The reservoir started to fill in October 2021 and the project is expected to begin operation in 2022.
In Honduras, the Patuca III hydropower plant, the second largest in the country at 104 MW which came online at the end of 2020, starting generating electricity, but transmission system upgrades are needed before its full power can be connected to the grid. The country’s power grid coordinator, ODS, released its long-term operational planning report in early 2022, stating that electricity use is projected to grow over the next three years, and the bulk of the new installed capacity between now and 2025 will be hydropower (36 per cent).
Panama continued to rely heavily on hydropower for its energy needs, providing 71 per cent of its electricity generation in 2021.
Jamaica’s government had previously announced plans to develop pumped storage hydropower that would help achieve 50 per cent renewable energy generation by 2030. At the beginning of 2022, it received an unsolicited proposal from a consortium to build a facility that would pump water into reservoirs at high elevations using solar power, then use it for electricity generation and for residential use and irrigation.