Pike Island Hydro Plant Is Debated

Wheeling Intelligencer
26 January 2014
By Casey Junkins, Staff Writer

YORKVILLE - St. Clairsville, Woodsfield and Oberlin are among Ohio municipalities that could benefit if American Municipal Power generates 256,000 megawatt-hours of renewable power per year by building a hydroelectric plant at the Pike Island Locks and Dam.

Yorkville village officials do not oppose the plant that would be built on the Ohio side of the dam, but Councilman Ron Emerson said they also want to know how it will affect them.

"It is definitely going to impact the village of Yorkville," he said, noting the municipality's property extends to the edge of the Ohio River where the dam begins. "They could not build it on the West Virginia side because of the locks."

American Municipal Power is one entity looking to install a hydroelectric power plant at the Pike Island Locks and Dam that would generate about 256,000 megawatt-hours of electricity per year.

According to preliminary plans on file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Columbus, Ohio-based American Municipal Power has proposed to build a 155-foot wide, 71-foot tall water intake structure near the Ohio side of the dam.

There would also be a 189-foot long concrete powerhouse featuring two giant turbine generators.

In place since 1963, Pike Island Locks and Dam spans the Ohio River just north of the Warwood section of Wheeling on the West Virginia side and Yorkville on the Ohio side. Although West Virginia has jurisdiction over the Ohio River, the dam falls under the auspices of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Plan

As more coal-fired power plants shut down to comply with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency air quality standards, hydroelectric power could be one way to fill the generation void. Environmentalists such as Wheeling Jesuit University biology professor Ben Stout favor renewable hydroelectricity as a means of reducing greenhouse gas emissions that occur with the burning of fossil fuels such as coal and natural gas.

American Municipal Power is the company that operates the New Martinsville Hydroelectric Plant at the Hannibal Locks and Dam, which began generating power in 1988. According to the company, the New Martinsville plant is capable of producing 18 megawatts of electricity per hour on each of its two generating turbines, a total of about 315,000 megawatt-hours per year.

New Martinsville Plant Manager Chuck Stora, who has worked at the plant since it started operation, said the pressure required to drive the plant's two turbines - 28,000 cubic feet of water per second - would fill a pair of football field-sized swimming pools with 10 feet of water in just 10 seconds.

In October, Boston-based Free Flow Power Project submitted a competing proposal to FERC that would have called for building a 225-foot wide, 50-foot long intake facility near the Ohio side of the Pike Island dam. This plant would have generated roughly 225,000 megawatt-hours per year.

Emerson said he believes Free Flow has dropped out of the running to build the plant. Free Flow officials could not be reached for comment.

Who Would Get the Power?

Emerson said he knew the northeastern Ohio city of Oberlin was somehow involved in the project. A FERC document shows that Oberlin filed for a permit to build the plant at Pike Island in September 2010. However, the permit expired on Aug. 31.

Steve Dupee, utility director for the city of Oberlin, said that Oberlin is one of several cities listed as members of AMP. St. Clairsville and Woodsfield are also classified as AMP members.

"If it would be built, some of the power could go to Oberlin, while some of it could go to the other member municipalities," Dupee said. "AMP would be the builder, if it got to that point."

Dupee said Oberlin is a "very environmentally conscious community" that is working on many renewable energy projects.

AMP spokesman Kent Carson did not return calls and emails seeking comment. FERC officials also could not be reached for comment.

Last week, Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, told Yorkville officials he would find out how the potential hydroelectric facility would impact the village.

"The first thing we need to find out is if they are really back in the game, or if this is a case of one hand not talking to the other. We owe you some answers," he said.

Numerous public officials and business leaders expressed support for the hydroelectric plant by submitting comments to FERC. As Mayor Blair Closser reminded Johnson, Yorkville overlaps the northernmost point of Belmont County and the southernmost point of Jefferson County. Jefferson County Commission Thomas Graham said "any type of business facility will be a benefit to Jefferson County."

A letter signed by Belmont County commissioners Ginny Favede, Matt Coffland and Mark Thomas states, "This area is easily accessible by road, rail and water, making it an excellent site for development."

Scott Mazzulli, secretary and treasurer of the Upper Ohio Valley Building and Construction Trades Council, states, "The Pike Island Locks and Dam has great energy producing potential. The project would be environmentally friendly, and also help us achieve energy independence."

"We don't oppose it at all," Emerson added of the planned facility. "We just want to know what is going to happen."