A plant on the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin, became the first hydroelectric facility when it began operations in 1882. Since then, dams and other facilities like this one dot the Fox River—and hundreds of other rivers all over the world.

Photograph coutesy Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, HAER WIS,44-LITCH,1--1

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  • On September 30, 1882, the first hydroelectric power plant began operations along the Fox River in Appleton, Wisconsin. A hydroelectric power plant uses moving water to generate electricity. Paper manufacturer H.F. Rogers was able to generate enough electricity to run the plant, a nearby building, and his own house.

    Today, there are dozens of hydroelectric power plants throughout the world, almost all of them controversial. Hydroelectricity is considered a renewable resource, because water is continually replenished in the water cycle. However, the dams on which many of these facilities depend can devastate the local environment.

    The world’s largest hydroelectric power plant is the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in Hubei Province, China. In order to build the dam, more than one million people had to move and 140 towns were flooded.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    controversial Noun

    questionable or leading to argument.

    dam Noun

    structure built across a river or other waterway to control the flow of water.

    devastate Verb

    to destroy.

    electricity Noun

    set of physical phenomena associated with the presence and flow of electric charge.

    environment Noun

    conditions that surround and influence an organism or community.

    flood Verb

    to overflow or cover in water or another liquid.

    generate Verb

    to create or begin.

    hydroelectricity Noun

    power generated by moving water converted to electricity. Also called hydroelectric energy or hydroelectric power.

    manufacture Verb

    to make or produce a good, usually for sale.

    power plant Noun

    industrial facility for the generation of electric energy.

    renewable resource Noun

    resource that can replenish itself at a similar rate to its use by people.

    water cycle Noun

    movement of water between atmosphere, land, and ocean.

    Encyclopedic Entry: water cycle