Bridge to clean energy: Leaders mull WNC’s energy future – Smoky Mountain News

by | May 4, 2022 | Energy

“What made Western North Carolina so attractive for developing hydro assets is that if we were to lop off the Pacific Northwest, here in Western North Carolina we receive some of the highest rainfall totals in the continental United States,” said Lisa Leatherman, local government and community relations manager for Duke Energy. 
Abundant rainfall combined with the mountains’ topography made hydro a reliable source of renewable energy. After building a dam to block the river’s flow, water is released at a controlled rate to turn the turbines, which in turn power electrical generators. As long as there’s water in the lake, the plant can keep generating energy. 
The region’s first dams were mostly small structures that generated just enough to supply the minimal needs of tiny towns like Andrews and Bryson City during the 1920s and 1930s. But then World War II started, and power generation became a matter of national defense. Thorpe Dam, which holds back Lake Glenville, began operating in 1941, and even today it has the largest head — the height difference between where the water enters and where it leaves — of any dam east of the Rockies. Head translates to generation capacity: during the war, Thorpe produced enough power for …

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