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February 12, 2014

Local hydro projects may get boost

— A Colorado company wants to help the Cambria Somerset Authority jump-start a long-planned effort to create small hydroelectric operations at two area dams.

CSA officials said they are in early discussions with Boulder, Colo.-based Gravity Renewables about the possibility of several “partnership” options that could put electricity-generating hydroelectric turbines at  Quemahoning Reservoir and Peggy’s Run.

Given the lengthy and expensive federal process required to get small hydro projects off the ground, a little help might be a good thing, CSA Chairman Jim Greco said.

“This is all still very early in the (discussion) process, but it could be a positive step,” Greco said. “It certainly won’t hurt to explore it.”

The CSA has been working toward developing hydroelectric generating stations at its three dam sites for years.

The authority’s energy consultant, Maine-based Kleinschmidt Associates, has been working on designs for potential hydroelectric stations at the Que, Peggy’s Run and a smaller effort at Hinckston Dam. The firm’s 2012 study for the CSA indicated the projects would cost $5.2 million to build but would generate $534,000 yearly in revenue.

Kleinschmidt is now in the early stages of moving the project through a multiyear federal permit process, but CSA manager Earl Waddell said the consultant referred the authority to Gravity in recent weeks.

“The company has extensive experience in small hydros and are operating a few currently,” Waddell told the board in a report last week. “They are also in the permitting process on a couple new hydros.”

Gravity’s website describes the company as an investor-backed owner, operator and developer of small U.S. hydroelectric power plants. An online portfolio shows it operates several hydro projects in North Carolina and New York.

The largest, the Saxapahaw Hydro Project, generates enough energy to power 592 homes a year.  

Three other projects are in development, including one at an Army Corps of Engineers site in eastern Kentucky, the company’s website shows. Once operational, it could power nearly 3,000 homes a year, a project description adds.

Waddell said Gravity has only expressed interest in the CSA’s proposed Peggy’s Run and Que sites, whose flows would produce most of the estimated 1.8 megawatts of annual energy the project’s owners could then sell to utility companies.

If the negotiations continue, project ownership would likely be a main talking point.

“There are a lot of options. We could own it. They could own it. They could manage it and we could retain ownership or we could share it,” Waddell said. “Even if it was their project, they’d be buying the water from us.”

“But all of this is very preliminary,” he added. A lot can change when you start talking about numbers and dollar figures.”

Kleinschmidt’s studies are being sent to Gravity for review, Waddell said.

Gravity will review the information and respond with a proposal, he said.

At that point, a meeting likely would be scheduled with the CSA’s property and finance committee, which is comprised of Greco and fellow members Jim Edwards, William Hoppel and Dave Mankamyer.

David Hurst covers the Cambria Somerset Authority for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/tddavidhurst

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