South of Alton, Illinois the Mississippi is an open river, unencumbered by dams. Here, Congress requires the St. Louis District of the Corps of Engineers to maintain a nine-foot navigation channel. It does so with channel-training devices, wing dams or dikes, which speed up the current, direct it to the center of the river, and force the river to scour a deeper channel. The dikes catch sediment between them and build sandbars along the banks. It’s called “channelization.”
The Free Flow Power Corporation wants to use the speed of the current in the channelized Mississippi to generate energy, using turbines set on bridge piers or on pools in the river. The company wants to place 180,000 small turbines at 55 sites in the Mississippi River below the navigation channels to generate as much as 1,800 megawatts of power at a cost of $3 billion.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has invited government agencies and groups interested in navigation and wildlife to 10 public meetings in cities along the river to discuss the project.
Thirty-two of the sites would be in Louisiana, where channelization has made the river deep and its current swift. The company noted that the Mississippi is a good candidate for in-river turbines, because it ceased to be a natural river a long time ago. Rather, it is the largest “channelized structure in the world.”
Should the company jump the regulatory hoops and get its turbines in the river, it might be able to generate enough electricity to light a million American houses for eight months out of the year.
Free Flow will make a site visit to Cape Girardeau at Cape Rock Park Lookout at 9 AM May 6, and a 3 PM visit to the Mary Meacham Crossing on the Riverfront Trail in St. Louis. Meetings will also be held in Memphis, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, and Tunica Resorts in Louisiana.