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More efficient power source?
BENNINGTON — March 12, 2010. The waters of the Walloomsac River have spilled over the dam at the former Vermont Tissue Paper site since it was constructed in 1887. Electricity has not been generated by the dam since 1958, however. Now, the dam’s new owner is hoping to retrofit the existing infrastructure to generate enough power to meet half of Bennington College’s needs.
William Scully, whose company, AOE Inc., purchased the dam and six acres of property from Pepper and MacLeod LLC, for $200,000 in June 2009, said his efforts to bring the dam back online through another company, Carbon Zero LLC, have been stymied by the state’s lack of a cohesive permit process.
“Until Dec. 15 of this last year there was never even an application process in Vermont. You couldn’t apply,” he said. “There’s still no clear application.”
Scully said he was only able to purchase the dam after the previous owner walked away from the years-long effort he was facing in Vermont.
“The guy had done 26 hydro sites around the world and he walked away from the table and said he would not do business in the state of Vermont. Very unhappy for a number of reasons,” Scully said. “He went to New Hampshire and went online in six months.”
Bill Scully stands beside the dam at the Papermill Covered Bridge in… (Peter Crabtree)
Rep. Joseph L. Krawczyk Jr., R-Bennington, vice chairman of the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee, said legislation he has introduced — with co-sponsors on both sides of the aisle — willstreamline the permitting process and promote new hydroelectric projects throughout the state.
Krawczyk said his bill will require the state Agency of Natural Resources to develop a general permit process for hydroelectric power projects across the state. The Agency would be required to introduce the new process through a pilot program that would include the Vermont Tissue Paper site dam in Bennington, he said, “to make sure we get this thing correct.”
“They’ll have one place to go. ANR will have one application for a permit,” Krawczyk said. “It will cut the time down considerably.”
The state has enough small dams to make 60 megawatts of power if all were put back online, Krawczyk said. But enacting legislation to boost hydroelectric power production has proven to be difficult, he said. In fact, some ANR officials have been strong opponents of hydro power, he said.
“We’ve had opponents to this that would rather see the dams come out of the rivers than see them come back. They’ve been pretty powerful,” Krawczyk said. “We’ve overcome those kind of issues. The iron is hot right now and I want it to pass.”
Scully said his project has been endorsed by both the town of Bennington and the Bennington County Regional Commission. It will create a minimum of one full-time job and five temporary jobs, he said. And, it will offset annually about 1,244 tons of carbon created by fossil fuels.
“I think everyone agrees that this is a net gain for the community,” Scully said.
The site is uniquely situated to mitigate environmental concerns, too, according to Scully. That is because of a secondary natural bedrock dam near the man-made concrete dam. The man-made dam is what helps turn the two turbines he plans to install.
“For environmental concerns, it makes this a really unique site because things like fish migration, water oxygenation, water temperature, all those things we can address with the other dam. The other dam isn’t part of the energy generation at all,” Scully said.
Scully said he intends to relay all of that to the House Natural Resources and Energy Committee next week when it begins taking testimony on Krawczyk’s bill.
Clark Amadon, of the Vermont Council of Trout Unlimited, said Trout Unlimited also intends to testify. The group fears that tinkering with the permitting process will leave Vermont’s rivers “treated as flowing dollar signs rather than flowing water.”
“This is a resource that belongs to the public. They always have,” Amadon said.
There is a danger in allowing a “one size fits all” general permit for new hydro projects, he said.
“General permits are typically used to permit projects that are numerous and routine, but pose low risks to the environment. The development of new hydro power is neither routine nor low-risk. In fact, it’s the polar opposite: Infrequent and high risk,” Amadon said.
In addition, hydroelectric dams pose a risk to fisherman by “dividing up streams,” he said.
“Imagine if we start to develop all of those sites what’s going to happen to those streams,” he said. “Species and organisms are not going to be able to move in a particular watershed.”
Krawczyk said there are obstacles to passing the bill this year because the deadline to move legislation out of committees expired Friday. However, the House could choose to suspend the rules to allow it to move forward after testimony is taken next week, or it could be introduced as a committee bill, he said.
“If I can get it through committee and get it on the House floor, I’m sure we can pass it,” Krawczyk said. “Realistically, and what I’m telling folks that come to me, is that we’ll try our best this year. If not, we’ll submit it again on the first day of the next session.”Contact Neal P. Goswami at email@example.com
Lori Barg, Community Hydro, Plainfield, VT • 802-454-1874 www.communityhydro.biz