History of Hydropower

History of Hydropower

In 1878 the world's first hydroelectric power plant was developed in Northumberland, England by William George Armstrong. It was used to power a single lamp in his art gallery. The old Schoelkopf Power Station No. 1 near Niagara Falls on the U.S. side began to produce electricity in 1881. The first Edison hydroelectric power plant, the Vulcan Street Plant, began operating September 30, 1882, in Appleton, Wisconsin, with an output of about 12.5 kilowatts. By 1886 there were 45 hydroelectric power plants in the U.S. and Canada. By 1889 there were 200 in the U.S. alone.

By 1920, as much as 40% of the power produced in the United States was hydroelectric, and the Federal Power Act was enacted into law. The Act created the Federal Power Commission to regulate hydroelectric power plants on federal land and water. As the power plants became larger, their associated dams developed additional purposes to include flood control, irrigation and navigation.

Owner’s continued to develop larger hydroelectric power plants throughout the 20th century. Hydropower was referred to as white coal for its power and plenty. Hoover Dam's initial 1,345 MW power plant was the world's largest hydroelectric power plant in 1936; it was eclipsed by the 6809 MW Grand Coulee Dam in 1942. The Itaipu Dam opened in 1984 in South America as the largest, producing 14,000 MW but was surpassed in 2008 by the Three Gorges Dam in China at 22,500 MW.