Crown Hydro Takes New Approach to St. Anthony Project

The following article by Nick Halter (updated January 25, 2012) was published in the Downtown Journal.


After 13 years spent wrangling with the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board to get approval to build a hydroelectric facility below parkland neat the Minneapolis Mill District, Crown Hydro is now working on a plan to build below U.S. Army Corps of Engineers land just downstream.

Crown Hydro in October met with the Corps of Engineers to discuss a proposal that would allow the company to build intake valves near the St. Anthony Falls lock wall, according to documents filed to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Jan. 20. Crown says the proposal would not require the approval of the Park Board, which has fought tooth and nail against the project.

Those documents were sent to FERC in order to convince the commission that the project is still making progress. FERC has threatened to revoke Crown Hydro’s license if the project doesn’t show progress. FERC granted Crown Hydro a license in 1999.

Crown Hydro wants to build a 3.2-megawatt hydroelectric facility on the west bank of the Mississippi River, just above St. Anthony Falls. The private company had been trying to get authorization from the Park Board to construct the underground facility, but negotiations fell apart in May.

The Army Corps of Engineers has not agreed to the project, but it has provided some feedback to Crown Hydro for a potential deal.

The Army Corps of Engineers, in written comments to Crown, expressed concerns over the stability of a 55-year-old gravity wall where Crown’s new proposal would be located.

“Information on this wall is limited, and the Corps has concerns about its stability,” wrote Nanette Bischoff of the Corps of Engineers.

The Corps also raised concerns about the availability of water flows at St. Anthony to keep Crown Hydro turbines running. Xcel Energy wants to expand its power generation at an existing hydroelectric facility across the river. Water above the falls is also used to fill the lock and dam chamber and for Minneapolis drinking water.

On top of that, residents have lashed out over the possibility of diverting water from St. Anthony Falls, a tourist attraction when water is churning over the spillway.

“Because many entities are vying for the available water resources in the upper pool, we question how much power Crown Hydro can generate, based on historic flows,” Bischoff wrote.

In its letter to FERC, Crown Hydro said it will seek an amendment to its license to allow for a license amendment in order to move forward with the new plan.

(Comment: Park Watch has heard that this proposal involves the tail races and, if so, there could be no construction without Park Board approval.)