Company seeks FERC license to construct hydro plants on Mon

Posted March 5, 2014

Bob Niedbala
Observer Reporter

A company that was studying the feasibility of building hydroelectric plants on six locks and dams on the Monongahela River for the last three years is moving ahead to seek licenses for its projects.

The Free Flow Power Corp. of Boston, Mass., filed a license application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to construct power plants on four dams on the Mon in Pennsylvania and two in West Virginia.

The company proposed developing the plants at the Charleroi, Maxwell, Grays Landing and Point Marion locks and dams in Pennsylvania; and the Opekiska and Morgantown locks and dams in West Virginia.

Three years ago, Free Flow received preliminary permits from FERC to investigate the feasibility of developing the power plants.

The results of its studies were encouraging, said Thomas Feldman, the company’s vice president for project development. They reveal no “obstacles we view as insurmountable,” he said.

The plants are relatively small and are considered “low impact.” They range in capacity from 5 to 13 megawatts. The Grays Landing plant will have a capacity of 12 megawatts, which can provide enough power to serve about 5,000 homes, Feldman said.

Studies completed by the company during the last three years took into account not only the environmental impacts of the projects, including their effects on water quality and on aquatic life, but also the impacts on traditional uses of the dams for recreational activities, he said.

All the plants will operate “run of river,” which means they will rely on available flow and not requiring pooling or storage of water upstream, he said. The plants will not affect the operations of the locks and dams.

The preliminary permit Free Flow received from FERC gave the company exclusive rights for three years to study development of plants. After determining the projects are feasible, the company is beginning the next step in the regulatory process by obtaining a license from FERC.

The company filed the license application Feb. 27, said FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

After the application is reviewed, FERC will issue a notice indicating it is ready to begin its own environmental review of the project, which will include seeking comment from other state and federal agencies as well as the public.

The process will provide several opportunities for public comment, Miller said.

A final environmental assessment will then be prepared by the agency’s staff and presented to the commission. The commission will consider the entire record and when issuing a final decision on the application may adopt all, part or none of the staff’s recommendations in the environmental review, she said.

Feldman said the company hopes to receive a license in 12 to 15 months. It is working concurrently to obtain other regulatory approvals necessary including those from the state and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Plans to construct hydro projects on locks and dams on the Monongahela River were proposed numerous times in the past, but none reached fruition.

Feldman said his company, however, has the expertise in the regulatory process as well as in engineering, construction and project financing to see the projects through to completion. Though challenges remain, he said, the company is encouraged by the results of the studies completed so far.

Free Flow’s only business is to develops hydroelectric projects on existing dams. It now has 43 projects in development and began construction on seven projects last year, according to its website.

Plans for each of the plants proposed for the Monongahela can be found on the company’s web page at www.free-flow-power.com.