Hillsborough River Dam becomes Tampa's next green energy project to generate hydroelectric power

Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm visited Tampa on Thursday to take a tour of the city’s next big green energy project: A hydroelectric dam. 

Mayor Jane Castor announced plans to retrofit the Hillsborough River Dam with two turbines that will turn the river into a source of hydroelectric power. City officials said the project will generate 839,000 kWh of power per year, the energy equivalent of powering 76 homes. 

"We will be using the natural power the flow of this water to create energy to supply our water treatment and our waste water treatment," said Castor on Thursday. 

It’s part of the city’s long-term plan to create sustainable, clean energy sources in order to reduce costs and cut carbon emissions. 

"When I open up the city’s electric bill every month the two highest users are water treatment and wastewater treatment, so if we can take some of the energy from the natural flow of water and take care of that electricity and reduce consumption it’s going to be very good for our environment," said Castor. 

The project, which Castor hopes to fund with federal dollars, aligns with the Biden administration’s push to entice local governments to utilize their natural resources in developing sustainable energy sources. 

"The fact that here in Tampa this Hillsborough dam is going to be generating electricity is another piece of the puzzle that will get us to the goal by reaching 100% clean electricity by 2035," said Granholm. 

While the secretary made no monetary commitments, Granholm explained that part of the administration’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law contains $800 million to help fund hydroelectric projects across the country. 

"There are about 90,000 dams across the country only three percent of them actually generate electricity. Fifty percent of them could, but only three percent of them do," said Granholm. "The Biden administration is very much focused on this issue of cost and bringing down prices and one way of doing that is to make sure we have as much renewable clean energy on the grid as we possibly can."

The administration plans to announce funding opportunities this fall. 

Since the late 1800s, the city has maintained a dam on the Hillsborough river. Electric companies first built dams there in order to generate cheap hydroelectric power to run the city’s then-robust streetcar network.

Decades of sabotage (the dam has been the target of bombers on more than one occasion), natural disaster and neglect led to mounting repair costs. When the dam was rebuilt in the 1940s it was done without the original hydroelectric components. 

Now, the estimated $2 to 8 million project could once again make Tampa a hydroelectric generator.