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Oswego Career Ladders - Hydropower

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Hydropower, which uses the energy of flowing water to produce electricity, is the largest and least expensive source of renewable energy produced in the United States today. In fact, hydropower now generates approximately 10 percent of the electricity used in our country (wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass combined produce less than 1 percent). Most hydropower projects use a dam and a reservoir to retain water from a river. When the stored water is released, it passes through and rotates turbines, which spin generators to produce electricity. Water stored in a reservoir can be accessed quiclkly during times when the demand for electricity is high. Other hydropower plants, called "run of the river" projects, do not require dams. Instead, a portion of a river's water is diverted into a canal or pipe to spin turbines.

Many large-scale dam projects have been criticized for altering wildlife habitats, impeding fish migration, and affecting water quality and flow patterns. As a result of increased enviromental regulation, the National Hydropower Association forecasts a decline in hydropower use through 2020. R&D efforts have succeeded in reducing many of these environmental impacts through the use of fish ladders (to aid fish migration), fish screens, new turbine designs, and reservoir aeration. Although funding has been limited, current research focuses on the development of a "next generation turbine," which is expected to further increase fish survival rates and improve environmental condition.

Jobs in Hydropower

As with many of the other renewable energy technologies, the design, construction, and maintenance of hydropwer plants require electrical and mechanical engineers, technicians, and skilled workers . If the hydropower project also involves managing the resevoir and the surrounding land, the developer will also hire recreation planners, resource managers, and educators. In addition, state and federal licensing laws now require current or prospective hydropower plant developers to assess the environmental effects of their operation. Thus, the hydropower industry now also employs environmental scientist (biologists, hydrologists, ecologists, and wildlife habitat specialists, for example) to assess environmental impacts and address environmental remediation. Environmental scientists, as well as engineers, aslo participate in R&D efforts through private companies, national laboratories, and universities.

Bachelors Degree or Higher

Electrical Engineer - Plans, designs, installs and tests electrical/electronic equipment, and oversees major maintenance activities and equipment installations at hydro electric plants. They provide technical assistance for the operation and maintenance of the electrical/electronic features of dams, power plants, communication systems, and water control structures. Average salary $80,000/yr.

Mechanical Engineer - Works on maintaining the generators and turbines assemblies, compressors and pumps. Average starting salary $60,000/yr for BS, $69,000/yr for MS, and $75,000/yr for PH.Ds.

Recreation Planner - Develops, manages and implements the programs offered to the public. They may be involved with off-road vehicle areas, white-water boating locations, wild caves, National Trails, Wilderness Areas, or developed campgrounds. They might be responsible for long-range plan development, maintenance, or visitor use monitoring in any or all of these types of settings. Average salary $60,000/yr.

Resource Manager and Ecologist - Helps to rehabilitate or maintain natural ecosystems that existed before the rivers were harnessed, and to protect species and natural lands from further harm. Whether designing and monitoring the impacts of a man-made flood through the Grand Canyon, helping native fish populations grow, or ensuring construction, operation and maintenance activities meet Endangered Species Act criteria and other environmental protection laws, this field of work will continue to grow and offer challenging career opportunities well into the future. Average salary $60,000/yr.

Hydrologist - Helps assess and protect our water supplies and water quality. Hydrologists concerned with water supplies manage surface and ground water to avoid problems caused by floods, droughts, population growth, and the impact of human activities. Hydrologists track soil moisture, ground water discharge, and snow conditions on the watershed and river system. Average salary $61,000/yr.

* All wages and salaries based on 2009 statistics.

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