State Approves West River Hydro Projects

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(Host) Proposals to make hydro-electric power at the West River dams in Townshend and Jamaica have been approved by the state.

But now time is running out for incentive programs that supporters say the project needs to succeed.

So, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports, developers and others want the federal hydro-licensing agency to pick up its pace.

(Keese) When the state approved Blue Heron Hydro’s plan to generate power from the two West River flood control dams, company president Lori Barg thought the biggest hurdles were past.

(Barg) "Our projects were the first two new riverine hydro projects to get 401 water quality certificates from the state in 25 years."

(Keese) But now the 3 megawatt project is waiting for a federal license. Its application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission was filed last October. Barg says the projects need to be federally licensed by the end of November.

(Barg) "That will give us two months to pull together the financing that will enable us to qualify for the federal incentive, and then meet the timeline of the state incentive of the Vermont SPEED program contracts, which require that we’re generating power by the end of next year."

(Keese) The hydro developer has made a request to FERC for "expedited consideration."  The group has letters of support from Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and from Central Vermont Public Service.

CVPS calls the project an ‘efficient use of public infrastructure," since it uses water that’s going through the dam anyway. The utility says power from small projects like these could help meet growing needs without costly new transmission lines.

FERC spokesperson Celeste Miller says the federal licensing agency has received the letters and Blue Heron’s request for a streamlined review.

Miller says the project is moving forward. She says it’s in a public comment period now.

(Miller) "There is an opportunity for the public to give us their input on the issues that they think need to be looked at during the environmental review process. Once we receive all of the comments, we have to review them, and that can sometimes can have an impact on the timing of the process."

(Keese) One issue that shouldn’t be a problem is the recent discovery of settling and seepage at the dam in Jamaica. The Army Corps of Engineers, which runs the dams, is working on a strategy for stabilizing the dam’s earthen embankment.

But Tim Dugan, a spokesman for the Army Corps, says that shouldn’t affect Blue Heron’s chances because the project doesn’t involve construction on the dam.

(Dugan) "We’re working with them and FERC. Essentially the Corps fully supports any type of hydro power development on federal Corps managed dams."

(Keese) The federal comment period on the projects runs through June 8.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese in Manchester.

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