WVDEP opposes power projects at locks, dams

The Dominion Post

Oct. 07–The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) issued licenses for hydroelectric power projects at the Morgantown and Opekiska locks and dams.

However, FERC’s decision faces opposition from the state and at least one local stakeholder group. The West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) plans to challenge the decision.

The projects were two of six proposed for the Monongahela River in 2014 by Boston-based FFP Missouri, now called Rye Development. Another is at Point Marion, Pa., while the other three are farther north, toward Pittsburgh.

FERC issued the licenses Sept. 29.

The 5 megawatt (MW) Morgantown powerhouse would generate about 17.9 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year, Rye says on its project list. The 6 MW Opekiska powerhouse would generate about 23.9 GWh.

Rye estimates the two projects would power about 3,800 homes and expects to complete them during the first quarter of 2019.

The DEP and local stakeholders raised concerns about environmental issues and disruption of local recreational fishing. In addition, FERC approved the licenses without required DEP water quality approval via what’s called a 401 Certification.

In its orders, FERC says DEP misconstrued the deadline and filed its certification one month late, so FERC waived the requirement.

Spokesman Jake Glance said in an email exchange, “WVDEP is very disappointed in FERC’s actions. We have 30 days to file a request for a rehearing and we are in discussions with the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (WVDNR) about pursuing that hearing.â€�

FERC’s orders for each project note stakeholder concerns about fishery disruption. For the Morgantown project, it says construction will temporarily displace shoreline angling opportunities, permanently remove a concrete platform that provides angling access to tailwater downstream of the dam and could disrupt rail-trail access.

It says FFP/Rye proposes to build angler paths90 feet upstream and450 downstream of the dam.

At Opekiska, FERC says, construction will permanently displace a shoreline fishing area. FFP/Rye proposes an eight-vehicle parking area, a canoe portage and angler access trail.

UMRA President Barry Pallay said that during this process, UMRA “made clear that this is one of the most productive fisheries in the state of West Virginia.â€�

While FERC cites the recreational issues in both orders, the orders lack adequate mandates. “This is beyond disappointing that FERC approved this,â€� he said. “We are extremely concerned about the implication of approving this without explicit protections and plans.â€�

Upper Monongahela River Association (UMRA) vice president and retired DNR fisheries biologist Frank Jernejcic agreed, saying FERC’s recommendations are not what stakeholders or DEP recommended. Speaking specifically of the Morgantown project, he said the powerhouse will be built right where everybody fishes, so it eliminates a prime fishing area.

Both projects would transmit power through new substations into existing transmission lines. They fall within Mon Power’s footprint, but Mon Power said Friday that it has no knowledge of the projects and no purchase agreements with Rye in place.

PJM oversees the regional grid. PJM spokes-man Ray Dotter said he had no immediate knowledge of any agreements with the company.

Regarding the Pennsylvania projects, the 5 MW Point Marion Lock and Dam powerhouse would produce about 15.8 GWh. It awaits FERC approval.

The 13 MW Maxwell Lock and Dam project, near East Millsboro, and 12 MW Monongahela Lock and Dam No. 4 project, near Belle Vernon, also await approval. The 12 MW Grays Landing Lock and Dam project, near Masontown, was licensed in August.

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.