MPR: Proposed Hydro Plant Seen as Green Energy Source, Eyesore

The following written and audio reports by Matt Sepic were posted on MPR’s website on November 27, 2013

Proposed hydroelectric plant seen as green energy source, eyesore (feature audio):

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — A Mississippi River hydroelectric plant could be a new green energy source for Minneapolis. It could also turn part of the river into a dry, concrete eyesore during the summer.

Those were two of the hopes and worries heard Tuesday at a public meeting over a plan to build a power plant: near St. Anthony Falls in downtown Minneapolis.

The company, Crown Hydro LLC, hopes to start construction in about a year. The project, however, still needs the blessing of many government agencies, and many downtown residents remain skeptical.

“The skepticism, it’s valid,” Crown attorney Richard Savelkoul acknowledged. “Everybody with an energy project near them has concerns. We don’t take that lightly. That is something we want to make sure everybody gets comfortable with, if at all possible.”

Crown’s proposal dates back to the late 1990s, when it first won approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a project just upstream from the Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam on Army Corps of Engineers property. After repeated objections from the Minneapolis Park Board, Crown now wants to build the plant alongside the Corps property.

The plant would produce enough electricity to power 4,000 homes using renewable energy with no carbon emissions, the company said.

Government agencies, though, aren’t Crown’s only hurdles. Many new residents have moved downtown in the last decade and a half, and some are suspicious of the project.

At Tuesday night’s meeting citizens asked Savelkoul repeatedly to detail who owns Crown Hydro and who’s financing the project. Savelkoul would not say, even when reporters asked him again later.

The project is a “shifting target that we’re trying to learn more about, and it’s all sort of in flux and there’s not a whole lot of transparency about the process or the project or the people behind the project either,” said resident Amy Bergquist.

Though Crown’s new proposal does not call for building the hydropower plant on land owned by the Minneapolis Park Board, several park board members raised objections. Commissioner Anita Tabb said she was “very concerned about the flow over the falls.”

When the Mississippi River is low in the summer, St. Anthony Falls could be reduced to a concrete slab, ruining the view from the Stone Arch Bridge, Tabb said. “What we have here is something that’s aesthetically pleasing to people and people come to the river because they enjoy seeing the river,” she added. “If there’s no river, then what is there for them to see?”

Crown needs the OK of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and a number of state agencies before it can proceed. Even still, the company hopes to begin construction in late 2014.

Savelkoul says that timeline is realistic, but also optimistic.


Park Watch Postscript–While Crown Hydro indicates that the new project site is not on MPRB land, the fact remains that part of the project will be affected by an underlying easement held by the Park Board.  So the proposed project can not move forward without Park Board approval–and there is no indication that the Park Board will be giving its approval.  Present at the meeting were four Park Board commissioners; and they all expressed opposition to the proposed project.

Arlene Fried
Co-founder of Park Watch