A hydropower facility modernization project at the Cheoah Dam in Robbinsville, N.C., is expected to produce more than 28 percent more power from existing water resources following an upgrade project funded in part by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The Cheoah Dam supplies power to Alcoa Inc.'s primary aluminum production factory in Alcoa, Tenn., and surrounding communities.

The upgrade project, supported by $12.9 million in funding under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and $110 million from the private sector, will deliver low-cost renewable electricity. The operators of Cheoah Dam estimate that the project can save the 40 hydropower operation jobs and 1,600 aluminum production jobs that would be lost if the facility’s equipment, which has exceeded its typical useful life, were to fail. This upgrade also is estimated to create 70 direct jobs during its approximately two-year construction phase.

According to a U.S. Department of Energy release, the project will boost the Cheoah Dam’s total generating capacity to 129 MW; reduce the plant’s dependence on fossil fuels by 60 percent; reduce the risk of oil spillage; and add 40 to 50 years to the facility’s life. The modernization upgrades on the 90-year-old equipment include replacing the oldest units with new high-efficiency turbines, generators and transformers as well as upgrading other equipment plant-wide. The work will not require any dam modifications or significant regulatory delays.