Glacial Energy Blog

The Power Behind Niagara Falls

Niagara Falls. View on Horseshoe Waterfall from Canadian SideNiagara Falls is a popular location for tourists to visit, especially those in the United States and Canada. During peak flows, over 750,000 gallons of water go over the falls every second, with 600,000 of those gallons flowing over the Canadian Horseshoe Falls alone. There is a lot of power behind all of that water, which is why the US and Canada have set up hydroelectricity plants along this great river.

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) established the Niagara Power Project, which in 1961, led to the construction of the largest hydroelectricity facility in Western civilization at the time. The two hydropower plants that comprise the Niagara Power Project, Robert Moses Niagara Power Plant and Lewiston Pump-Generating Plant, currently generate 24 megawatts of electricity each year, saving millions of dollars in energy costs over coal and natural gas use. The Niagara Power Project is the largest electricity producer in the whole state of New York.

The two hydro power plants have a forebay to hold about 740 million gallons of water and a combined 25 turbines to generate the 24 megawatts of electricity. Behind the Lewiston plant is a 1900 acre reservoir to hold extra water for use during peak hours. To harness this great power, the hydropower plants divert up to 375,000 gallons per second through underground conduits leading to the Robert Moses plant’s turbines, where the water spins turbines that generate electricity. The Lewiston plant will pump excess water into its reservoir during late night off-peak hours and will function as a second set of turbines during the peak day hours to maximize efficiency by reversing the flow of the water it pumped up into the reservoir and letting it pass through the Lewiston plant’s turbines and the Robert Moses plant’s turbines.

A treaty signed in 1950 regulates the amount of water that can be diverted in an effort to preserve the natural beauty of the falls. It requires that at least 100,000 cubic feet of water flows over the falls every second during daylight hours between April and October – peak tourist season. At all other times of year and at night, only 50,000 cubic feet needs to flow over the falls per second.

Every winter, the NYPA and Ontario Power Generation work together to prevent the lake water from freezing, which would result in flooding shorelines and reduce the power plants’ output. This is accomplished by using specialized boats and an ice boom. The ice boom is located at Lake Erie’s outlet and prevents ice from building up, while also letting water flow down river. When the temperature drops below zero, special ice breaking boats are sent out to patrol the river and crush the ice into manageable chunks which are directed over the falls.


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