FEDS SEEK INFO ON HYDROELECTRIC DAM PROJECT
The following article by Drew Kerr was published in the July 13, 2012 on-line edition of Finance and Commerce:
Plans to build a 3.4-megawatt hydroelectric facility north of the Stone Arch Bridge have stalled for years, but the company behind the project is now looking at a new site they say could finally put the project in motion. (File photo: Bill Klotz)
Plans to build a hydroelectric facility north of the Stone Arch Bridge – stalled for a decade amid concerns it would disrupt the historic and recreational area – are coming back into focus as federal regulators demand to see evidence progress is being made on the project.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in June sent Crown Hydro LLC: http://www.crownhydro.net/ a notice: https://parkwatch.files.wordpress.com/6-14-2012FERCNoticeofInitiationofTerminationProceedings.pdf saying the company needed to prove it was working toward construction of the facility or risk losing a license to build a 3.4-megawatt facility on the west side of the Mississippi River.
The project was licensed in 1999 but has stalled because the Minneapolis-based company, owned by local investor Bill Hawks, has failed to reach an agreement with the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board, which owns the site where the facility was intended to be built.
Park Board officials have expressed concerns that a hydroelectric plant north of the Stone Arch Bridge would lower water levels over the Upper St. Anthony Falls: http://www.mvp.usace.army.mil/navigation/default.asp?pageid=145&subpageid=144 and disrupt sensitive environmental and historic resources in the area.
Tim Keane, counsel for Crown Hydro, said Friday that a response to the FERC notice would be filed by a July 19 deadline outlining steps that are being taken to pursue a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers site just 250 feet from the Park Board property.
Crown Hydro approached the Army Corps about the site last year, after an agreement with the Park Board fell through and it became apparent that no resolution was likely. Site review, expected to take around a year, is occurring now and construction could begin as soon as the fall of 2013 if permits are in place, Keane said.
Keane said he hoped that work would convince FERC officials that good faith efforts to advance the project are being made. If the license were lost, it would be a financial and logistical challenge to obtain another one, he said.
“The crux of our response to FERC is that we do not intend to surrender our license due to lack of progress or proceeding with due diligence,” Keane said. “To the contrary, we have been pursuing with due diligence and in good faith.” Keane said more progress has been made in the last nine or ten months with the Army Corps than in the previous 12 years with the Park Board.
Crown Hydro already has spent $6 million trying to get the project going, he said. Turbines and other equipment were purchased in 2003, but now sit in a temperature-controlled facility in Jordan, Minn. Construction was expected to cost $11 million, but the new site may be less expensive, Keane said.
Nanette Bischoff, FERC coordinator with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers St. Paul District, was unavailable for comment on Friday. But in a recent letter addressing the proposal she listed concerns about navigation, historical, environmental and aesthetic impacts that would have to be addressed if the project is to move forward. The letter also raised questions about whether the project would be able to capture the 1,000 cubic feet per second of water Crown Hydro believes it needs because of existing hydroelectric facilities in the area.
Xcel Energy expects to complete an expansion of its Hennepin Island Hydro Generating Station: http://www.xcelenergy.com/About_Us/Our_Company/Power_Generation/Hennepin_Island_Hydro__Generating_Station?stateSelected=true on the other side of the Mississippi River, this spring. New turbines are increasing the facility’s generating capacity from 12 megawatts to 14.2 megawatts.
Rob Olson, Xcel’s superintendent of hydro operations, said the expansion shouldn’t impact Crown Hydro’s ability to capture the water flow it needs to operate, however.
The river has been running high all spring and summer, with flows occasionally topping 40,000 cubic feet per second – a level so high that locks and dams were closed to commercial and recreational traffic.
Keane said engineers for Crown Hydro also believe there is enough water to meet the facility’s needs, and that energy from the facility, capable of powering 2,500 homes a year, still is needed. Crown Hydro has a purchase agreement to sell the energy to Xcel.
Park Board leaders remain concerned about the project, however.
On Wednesday, Park Board commissioners approved a resolution to ask FERC to revoke Crown Hydro’s license.
Commissioner Liz Wielinski said the Park Board also has an easement to use part of the Army Corp land that Crown Hydro intends to use, and may have additional rights to other land needed to build the facility. A survey needs to be completed to clarify ambiguity about property ownership in the project area, she said.
Wielinski said she hopes the license will be revoked so that the proposal disappears for good.
“We realize now that the only way to be sure this project isn’t going to come back is to revoke the license,” she said.
There are more than 30 hydroelectric facilities in Minnesota, and plans have been floated: http://finance-commerce.com/2011/10/plugging-into-mighty-mississippi-river-shows-promise-for-hydroelectric-projects/ to build several more on lock and dams farther south along the Mississippi River.
The newest hydroelectric facility, a 10-megawatt plant: http://brookfieldrenewable.com/_Global/44/documents/relatedlinks/4616.pdf on the Lower St. Anthony Falls Dam, was built by Marlborough, Mass.-based Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners: http://brookfieldrenewable.com and Wayzata-based Nelson Energy: http://nelsonenergy.us . The $35 million facility went into commercial operation in December.