Stream Hydrology Program

Water resources

Hydropower Development in Minnesota

by Gene H. Hollenstein

From "Power Development in Minnesota"
State of Minnesota Conservation Department, Division of Waters, Bulletin 20, July 1962

Surface water resources played an important role in the early development of Minnesota. Many of the early villages and hamlets were located near good waterpower sites. The development of the waterpower of the Mississippi River at the Falls of St. Anthony made Minneapolis the flour milling capital of the world by the 1890's.

Hydroelectric development in Minnesota began at the Falls of St. Anthony in 1882 when the first hydroelectric station in the United States was placed in operation. Many hydroelectric plants were built from 1900 to 1930. The greatest increase in waterpower development occurred between 1900 and 1920 when many of the present hydro plants were built.

Waterpower dams have been built or used at 564 different locations in Minnesota. The greatest concentration of such dams was in Fillmore and Houston Counties. The first waterpower dams entirely within the state were built in 1844 at Stillwater and at Little Canada.

There are at present 39 hydroelectric developments in operation in Minnesota. About 80 percent of the hydropower is produced by privately owned utility companies. Pioneer companies in Minnesota were Northern States Power Company, Minnesota Power and Light Company, and the Otter Tail Power Company. Although Minnesota could develop nearly 50 percent more hydropower than at present, it is unlikely that new developments will be constructed because of various economic factors and the lack of favorable locations.