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Encyclopedia Dubuque


"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
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Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.


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Illustration of how electric energy is produced by flowing water.
HYDROELECTRICITY. The generation of electric power from energy provided by flowing water. With the construction of Lock and Dam 11 at Dubuque in the 1930s, the possibility of using the facility to produce electricity was studied and rejected. The potential of the dam to create electric power was again discussed in 1978 as a result of a three-year study by the United States Army Corps of Engineers' Institute of Water Resources of the nation's dams.

Problems mentioned in the production of hydroelectric power included doubts that such power could be marketed competitively with energy produced by burning coal. Drops from one navigation pool to another on the Upper MISSISSIPPI RIVER have been considered insufficient. During periods of low water nearly all the navigation pools would have to be drained to keep generators operating. Increasing prices for fossil fuels such as coal and declining supplies in the future could make the production of hydroelectric power more likely.

In 1981 the Dubuque County Board of Supervisors asked the City of Dubuque to take over plans to develop a small-sale hydroelectric power plant on the Mississippi. The county's plan to develop the project was blocked by a legal opinion that county governments do not have the authority to form electric utilities. (1)

In October, 1984 the Army Corps of Engineers released a draft feasibility study and environmental impact statement recommending that Sabula, Preston, and Bellevue be allowed to build a 14 megawatt hydroelectric power plant on Dam 11 at Dubuque. The report recommended that: (2)

                1. new boat ramps be constructed to replace those lost 
                   in the construction of the powerhouse, 
                2. a rock wall be constructed with openings for fish and 
                   wildlife to pass through, 
                3. a 36-inch concrete pipe be laid between O'LEARY'S LAKE 
                   and a backwater slough to allow water and wildlife exchange, 
                4. fishing be allowed downstream of the powerhouse along the shore, 
                5. rock be placed on the river bottom downstream to prevent erosion.

In 1984 the DUBUQUE COUNTY CONSERVATION SOCIETY filed a Motion to Intervene regarding the Three City Mississippi River Hydropower Project proposed for Lock and Dam #11 and the O'Leary's Lake area. The Society's concerns centered on the adverse effect the project would have on the river habitat including migrating fish and the destruction of a large portion of the lake area. The Society was joined in its opposition by other public and private agencies and after several years the $76 million project was cancelled. (3)

In 2013 Missouri River Energy Services, a Sioux-Falls, South Dakota based utility company considered Dubuque as a site for a future project, but chose instead other locations. (4)

In 2015 Energy Resources USA Inc., announced that it was considering Dubuque as a possible location for a future project. The company also applied for a preliminary permit to build a hydropower plant at Lock and Dam No. 11. The permit would allow the company three years to consider developing the site, but would not authorize construction. (5) The proposed 19,800-foot power plant would produce 119,655 meta-watt-hours per year. This would be enough energy to power between 10,000 and 11,000 homes. (6) Energy Resources USA Inc. is part of Energy Resources S.A. based in Barcelona, Spain which constructed twenty-five hydroelectric plants in Spain and operated seven, also was in the process of obtaining permits and licenses for work in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, and Louisiana. (7)

In October 2015 it was announced that city officials had asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to allow the city to explore the potential of constructing a hydroelectric plant at the ZEBULON PIKE LOCK AND DAM on its own or with private partners. In 2013 council members had adopted an effort to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions to 50% below 2003 levels by 2030. (8) Without details financial and technical details about the Spanish company, the federal commission was also asked to amend the company's application to ensure the city was not prohibited from its own review of the site. (9)



1. "County Asking City to Take Hydro Project," Telegraph Herald, May 15, 1981, p. 17

2. Breyfogle, Bill, "Corps Report Gives Tentative OK to Hydropower Plant," Telegraph Herald, Oct. 3, 1984, p. 2

3. Leifker, David. "Dubuque County Conservation Society Celebrates 75 Years," Julien's Journal, April 2008, p. 73.

4. Barton, Thomas J. "Dubuque Dam Eyed for Power Source," Telegraph Herald, September 5, 2015, p. 1

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Barton, Thomas J. "Hydropower Plant Might be in City's Plans," Telegraph Herald, October 6, 2015, p. 2A

8. Ibid., p. 1

9. Ibid., p. 2A