Friday April 19, 2013

TOWNSHEND -- A New Jersey developer now has some extra time to complete two planned hydroelectric plants on the West River.

The state Public Service Board has granted Eagle Creek Renewable Energy’s request to extend a completion deadline from Dec. 31 to Oct. 31, 2014, for projects at Townshend Dam and Ball Mountain Dam in Jamaica.

One hang-up is that Eagle Creek -- operating for these projects as Blue Heron Hydro LLC -- has not yet obtained a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The plants already have been licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

"Because Blue Heron has demonstrated good-faith compliance with FERC requirements and has demonstrated that it has made all reasonable efforts to obtain all necessary approvals as quickly as possible, we grant the requested extension of time to allow for the commissioning of the projects," the Public Service Board wrote in an order dated April 12.

Eagle Creek last summer announced acquisition of Blue Heron, which had been developing the two projects and had obtained 50-year licenses from FERC. There also are long-term power-purchase agreements through Vermont’s Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development program.

The plants’ projected output -- a combined 3.1 megawatts -- is modest.


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But an Eagle Creek executive has said the facilities’ size and locations were positive attributes for the company, which was founded in 2010.

In a recent interview, Chief Executive Officer Bud Cherry said "additions to existing Army Corps of Engineers dams represent one of the principal areas of growth" for Eagle Creek.

Administrators previously had predicted that construction would start late in the second quarter, and the hydro plants would begin operating later this year.

But in testimony submitted to the Public Service Board, Kenneth Kemp, who is Eagle Creek Vice President of Projects, said that deadline might not be met.

"Blue Heron believes there is a possibility, due to events beyond its control, that it may not be able to achieve the Dec. 31, 2013 commission date," Kemp said.

In state documents, Kemp noted that Army Corps permits are required before construction can proceed.

"While the advancement of the projects over the last 10 months has been substantial, the review and approval required by USACE and formulation of the required operational agreement ... have indeterminate durations which may jeopardize the anticipated projects’ completion prior to Dec. 31," Kemp said.

He said Blue Heron has worked with the Army Corps, but the agency has been occupied with other matters.

"Mainly, USACE manpower is needed for the work required to continue cleanup and repair of damage caused by three hurricanes/tropical storms which have impacted the North Atlantic Division, the regional USACE district with oversight over the project, in the last three years," Kemp said.

He also told the board that changing water levels -- particularly at Ball Mountain -- present scheduling difficulties for construction. And he said the Army Corps has not yet approved a plan utilizing divers for construction.

The Public Service Board noted that it already had issued one extension for the hydroelectric facilities in May 2012.

But the board’s ruling also points out that hydro projects are subject to a federal permitting process that can be "significantly longer" than the state’s.

Also, the Sustainably Priced Energy Enterprise Development program’s facilitator has said Blue Heron is "proceeding diligently and in good faith with the development of both projects," the board’s order says.

Kemp had sought to make that same point in his testimony to the service board.

"Blue Heron has advanced the civil, mechanical and electrical engineering designs to approximately 90 percent completion," Kemp said, adding that the company’s turbine supplier "has completed design and has placed orders worth approximately $3 million for the long-lead components necessary to manufacture and install the units."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.