Hoover Dam Modernization Project First of Its Kind

Waterpower XVI

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), established in 1902, is best known for the dams, power plants, and canals it constructed in the 17 western states that led to homesteading and promoted the economic development of the West. Reclamation has constructed more than 600 dams and reservoirs including Hoover Dam on the Colorado River. Reclamation is the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the United States. Its 58 power plants annually provide more than 40 billion kilowatt hours annually, generating nearly a billion dollars in power revenues, and producing enough electricity to serve six million homes.In October 2006, Reclamation awarded a contract for the modernization of the 26 hydroelectric generating units at Hoover, Davis, and Parker Dams on the lower Colorado River. Hoover Dam power generation is used to meet load regulation requirements and fast, predictable, repeatable unit control provides significant benefits. The project upgrades all unit control and protection equipment, replacing some equipment dating back to the 1940s that was not easily maintainable.Unique about this project was that Reclamation elected to obtain a commercial solution based on demonstrated success by the vendor in recent similar projects rather than issuing the traditional custom design specification. The vendor was to use commercially available components and previously proven designs. Reclamation identified work boundaries, conceptual requirements and objectives stating that cutting-edge technologies and custom solutions would not be considered.L&S Electric, Inc. (Rothschild, Wis.), was awarded a $5.7 million contract for the modernization project to upgrade the existing mechanical governors to digital, install new digital generator and transformer protective relays, install new programmable-logic-controller-based unit controls, and replace static pilot exciters with new digital equipment. L&S Electric was responsible for system integration, engineering and equipment modernization, and was required to standardize the hardware design for all 26 units. Twenty months after the contract was awarded, the first six upgraded units were operational. This is no small feat considering that similar automation projects based on traditional government specifications have taken five to 10 years from award to operation.The benefits received from just eight of 26 upgrades have already improved power system control. Power system oscillations caused by rapid changes in demand during heavy summer power requirements were reduced during the summer of 2008 using the improved unit control responses. Significant improvements are expected in operating efficiency (power produced from water delivered) as the remaining upgrades are completed.


Chau Nguyen, Terry Bauman