The Power Barge: Floating Power Plants Are Coming

If you live in southwest Wisconsin near the Mississippi, you might be seeing a power barge or two or three on the river soon.

power barge - illustration of dam spillway

Initial plans are for power barges to supplement hydropower facilities.

Illustration by Fotolia/Christos Georghiou

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A Wisconsin utility is evaluating the power barge concept — generator-equipped boats that can be moved around to supplement existing power infrastructure — and may deploy them in force late next year. Approximately 50 dams originally built in the state to aid navigation on the Mississippi River can accommodate the floating electrical plants, the first of which are scheduled to be installed by the fall of 1986 and should produce 3.3 megawatts for the Western Wisconsin Municipal Power Group. Three or more power barges could be attached to some of the dams, and the project's total generating capacity is estimated at more than 1,200 megawatts. Before work proceeds, however, the environmental impact of the barges — particularly the effect the series of turbines would have on migrating fish — will have to be assessed.