Allegheny County has been chalking up big wins for the environment recently, and here’s another: Last week, the county announced that it will purchase renewable hydropower energy from a new project on the Ohio River.

The 35-year power purchase agreement with Rye Development will provide enough power for 3,400 households, for every year the agreement is in effect. Throughout the life of the agreement, the hydropower energy will offset one million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions, similar to 2.6 million miles driven by car.

The 17.8-megawatt, low-impact hydropower facility, called the Emsworth Main Channel Project, will be located on the Emsworth Main Channel Dam along the Ohio River. Construction on the project will begin later this year. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates the dam. The facility is expected to be operational by mid-2023.

This is only the beginning. Rye plans to develop 10 hydropower projects on the locks and dams of the region’s three major rivers, with the goal to significantly increase the amount of renewable energy the county consumes. Rye is pursuing Low Impact Hydro Institute certification for its minimal impact on the local river ecosystem.

“This is a landmark day for our county,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. “This announcement renews our commitment to the environment, our commitment to addressing climate change and is an investment in our future generations.”

Rendering of the Emsworth Main Channel Project courtesy of Allegheny County.

Though it gets less attention when compared to solar and wind, hydropower accounts for about 38% of U.S. utility-scale renewable energy generation.

“Participating in a zero-carbon power generation project utilizing the power of our rivers, without impacting other uses of them, or their quality, demonstrates the county’s leadership both in getting Pennsylvania to a decarbonized energy future and positioning southwest Pennsylvania as a center of energy innovation,” said Davitt Woodwell, president of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council.

In 2018, the University of Pittsburgh also revealed its hydropower plans, by signing a letter of intent to purchase 100 percent of the power from a Rye Development low-impact hydropower plant at Allegheny Lock and Dam No. 2, located just below the Highland Park Bridge. The facility will supply 25% of Pitt’s campus power needs.