Richard B. Russell – not your average hydropower plant

A look at the downstream side of the Richard B. Russell Dam. USACE photo.

A look at the downstream side of the Richard B. Russell Dam. USACE photo.

(A version of this article originally appeared on this blog May 29, 2013.)

The youngest of Savannah District’s three multipurpose dam and lake projects, Richard B. Russell Dam differs from Hartwell and Thurmond, not just size and appearance, but also in functionality. Here are the three factors that make Russell unique:

Limited Private Shoreline Use
Named for U.S. Senator Richard Brevard Russell Jr., the lake consists of 26,650 acres of surface water and 540 miles of pristine shoreline. Unlike the Savannah District’s two other reservoirs, federal regulations prohibit exclusive private use of the public lands surrounding the Russell reservoir. The Corps set this regulation for all water resource projects built after Dec. 13, 1974; Russell was completed in 1985.

As a result, the shoreline of the lake is almost completely undeveloped with the exception of some state parks and day-use areas. This means privately owned boat docks, launching ramps, driveways, gardens, buildings, developed walkways, vista clearings, underbrushing, mowing and other private lakeshore uses are not permitted.

The Corps owns a 300-foot buffer zone all the way around the 540 miles of shoreline to mitigate the loss of habitat due to the creation of the lake. The natural shoreline creates a different look and feel to the reservoir when compared to Thurmond and Hartwell, which have highly developed shorelines.

Pumpback Units
Another unique feature of the Russell Project is its ability to pump water upstream from the Thurmond reservoir.

Eight large turbines line the inside of the Richard B. Russell Dam, which can operate at an installed capacity of 668 megawatts. The Russell Dam is the largest Corps-operated hydropower-producing project east of the Mississippi and one of the largest hydropower plants in the Southeast. USACE Photo.

Eight large turbines line the inside of the Richard B. Russell Dam, which can operate at an installed capacity of 668 megawatts. The Russell Dam is the largest Corps-operated hydropower-producing project east of the Mississippi and one of the largest hydropower plants in the Southeast. USACE photo.

Like the power plants at Thurmond and Hartwell lakes, the Russell Dam power plant is a “peaking” hydropower facility, which uses kinetic energy from water releases to produce electricity.

This produces hydropower which is marketed to private electric companies via the Southeastern Power Administration to meet the region’s peak demands for electrical power during times of high use. Examples of peak power demands include times such as hot summer afternoons and cold winter mornings and evenings.

However, in addition to the four conventional turbines already on line for power production at the Russell Dam, the power plant has four reversible pump-storage turbines, known as pumpback units.

The four pumpback units at Russell Dam are different than regular generators in that at night, when electrical power demands are low, they can operate in reverse direction to pump water from below the dam back upstream into Russell Lake.

Then, the next day when peak power demand occurs and the price of electricity peaks, the additional water that has been stored overnight can be used to generate electricity.

The Russell Project’s pumpback capability is even more critical in periods of drought because it can make use of the same water over and over, limiting total water output from the reservoirs. Read more about pump back in our previous post “Pumpback and its effects on Thurmond Lake.”

The Department of Energy’s Southeastern Power Administration in Elberton, Georgia, markets our hydropower to private utilities and electrical cooperatives, providing dependable, non-polluting power to consumers across the entire Southeast region.

With eight turbines operating at an installed capacity of 668 megawatts, the Richard B. Russell Dam and Lake is the largest Corps-operated hydropower-producing project east of the Mississippi and one of the largest hydropower plants in the Southeast. Scheduled additional pumping provides 1000 mega-watt hours to cover SEPA system shortages outside the Savannah River Basin.

Conservation Pool
Russell has the same project purposes as Hartwell and Thurmond, minus downstream navigation. Because Russell Dam was constructed after the other two projects had satisfied most of the conservation storage needs on the Savannah River, the reservoir was designed with a smaller volume of conservation storage: only 5 feet.

Comparatively, Hartwell has 35 feet of conservation storage and Thurmond has 18 feet of conservation storage, enabling greater variance in their levels. As a result, the Russell reservoir almost always appears to be full.

As always, we invite your comments and questions. Thanks for reading!

~ Rashida Banks, Public Affairs Specialist

About US Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Savannah District oversees a multi-million dollar military construction program at 11 Army and Air Force installations in Georgia and North Carolina. We also manage water resources across the Coastal Georgia region, including maintenance dredging of the Savannah and Brunswick harbors; operation of three hydroelectric dams and reservoirs along the upper Savannah River; and administration of an extensive stream and wetland permitting and mitigation program within the state of Georgia. Follow us on Twitter @SavannahCorps and on Facebook.com/SavannahCorps
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