Lock and dam awaiting decision on hydropower

The Dominion Post

April 16–Hydropower at the Morgantown Lock and Dam still has a murky future.

Rye Development, a Massachusetts-based company, is awaiting issuance of federal hydropower licenses for three projects on the Monongahela River, including one at the Morgantown Lock and Dam.

Celeste Miller, a spokesperson for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), said the application for hydropower on the dam was filed Feb. 27, 2014, and there is no way of knowing when the application will be approved or denied.

“I am not aware of anything that we are waiting on,” Miller said.

Paul Jacob, chief commercial officer for Rye Development, said the project is six years old, and the issuance of the federal hydropower license from FERC is one step in the process.

“There are still several more steps to go through, including approval from the Army Corps of Engineers, which owns the dam itself,” Jacob said.

Jacob said if the plan sees fruition the facility would be a five-story building made of concrete, and most of the structure would be underwater.

The design of the facility has been debated in the community. The Morgantown Municipal Green Team and the Monongahela River Trails Conservancy have worked together to make sure the transmission lines, access road and parking area do not affect the Caperton Trail, which runs along the Monongahela River by the Morgantown Lock and Dam.

Jim Kotcon, WVU professor and Morgantown Municipal Green Team member, said the team needs to see clarification of exactly where those aspects of the design will be located compared to the trail.

“We think that it should be possible to design that access road and transmission line across the trail without adversely impacting the recreational use,” Kotcon said.

Kotcon said he has been involved in this project since he first heard about it.

“One of the issues we have run into over the years is that the people at Rye Development keep changing about every year,” Kotcon said. “The things we thought we had agreed to with one person, when the next person comes in, it’s sort of an education process all over again.”

If the plan sees fruition, Rye Development estimates the project will take 18 to 24 months to construct, and the facility will produce five megawatts of energy, which can power about 2,500 homes.

During construction, Rye Development estimates the creation of 150 to 200 jobs. The bulk of those would involve procuring local concrete, steel and large equipment, Jacob said.

Jacob said two to four jobs would be created after construction for the facility’s operation.

The preliminary budget for the project is $15 million, Jacob said. “Our goal is to reduce that as much as possible just because that makes the power less expensive,” Jacob said.

Rye Development estimates that the project will begin commercial operation in 2019 or 2020.

“That really depends a lot on the timing of the different agencies and moving through the different processes we have left,” Jacob said.

Before construction can begin, Rye Development would have to have a buyer for the power produced by the facility.

“In very simple terms, if we can’t find a buyer for the power that comes out of the facility, we can’t build it,” Jacob said. “We are talking to a number of entities about potentially buying the power, but we don’t have a signed commitment.”

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Waterways Council, Inc.