Hydroelectric Dams

DNR meets with area stakeholders

Morgantown Dominion Post
25 November 2013
By Ben Conley

The potential placement of hydroelectric turbines next to the Monongahela River’s Opekiska and Morgantown locks was the topic of a brief, informal meeting recently.

Representatives from the West Virginia Department of Natural Resources (DNR) met with officials from Morgantown, Fairmont, Monongalia County, the Board of Park and Recreation Commissioners (BOPARC), the Mon River Trails Conservancy (MRTC) and others to discuss a preliminary application by Boston, Mass.-based Free Flow Power.

Kerry Bledsoe, of DNR’s office of wildlife resources, described the purpose of the meeting.

“Basically, we just wanted to inform them that under FERC’s (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) process for licensing, we’re at a junction where comments can be filed with the commission,” Bledsoe said, explaining that the window for comment ends Jan. 20. “We’re going to be filing comments so it’s important we make sure they were aware they had these opportunities.”

Free Flow Power initially filed a notice of intent in November 2011 and, according to Morgantown City Manager Jeff Mikorski, met with city officials in February 2012, at which time a preliminary design was included as part of an informational packet.

The packet describes the Morgantown and Opekiska facilities as each containing two horizontal bulb Kaplan turbines.

Bledsoe explained that the London, Marmet and Winfield projects on the Kanawha River are similar in scope to what is proposed for the Monongahela. Bledsoe said taking a look at these facilities might help give a better understanding of what Free Flow Power has planned.

Mikorski attended the meeting and said the city will put some comments together.

“I’ll be relaying to council the information I have and we will prepare comments from there,” Mikorski said, explaining that he foresees topics focusing on how the facility would affect riverside parks and recreation to be high on the city’s list of concerns.

During Wednesday’s Monongalia County Commission meeting, Commission President Eldon Callen said there was some discussion about bringing the different groups together to come up with comments and concerns.

“It was kind of a rap session about whether we should try to join together, should we have our own comments, separate comments and separate positions,” Callen said, adding that the commission would likely invite the interested parties to a work session to decide the best course of action.

Callen said there were numerous issues to consider, particularly when placing something in such a heavily used area.

“This really has to do with the placement of the power plant,” Callen said. “Opekiska shouldn’t be a problem because there’s nothing really there, but down there in Morgantown, you’ve got the rails to trails and all that.”

The process of placing hydroelectric turbines is a long one. According to the information distributed by Free Flow Energy last February, it takes six years from initial consultation before FERC will make a final ruling and any construction can begin.

In this case, that would mean it would be 2016 at the earliest before a final determination is made.

It also isn’t the first time this kind of project has been considered. According to The Dominion Post archives, Brookfield Power U.S. took preliminary steps to place a hydroelectric station on the Hildebrand Lock and Dam in 2007.

Messages left at Free Flow Power were not returned in time for this report.