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Canton Officials Provide Update on Collinsville Hydroelectric Project

January 29, 2016 Business, Community, Environment, Government No Comments
Photo by John Fitts

Photo by John Fitts

By John Fitts

On Wednesday night, town officials provided the Board of Selectmen with an update on the proposed hydroelectric project at the Collinsville upper dam.

Additionally, selectmen held a closed-door session to discuss ongoing negotiations on the proposed public-private partnership with Canton Hydro, LLC to develop the site. No action was taken.

During the public presentation, Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner presented a historic overview, the current proposal, related legislation and more.

The hydro facility has its roots in a timber dam built in 1837 by the Collins Company, according to the town’s presentation. The company built the current stone masonry upper dam in 1867 and the powerhouse in 1935.

The company closed in the 1960s and the dam is now owned by the state. At least two other entity’s have sought to rebuild dam infrastructure and the town’s involvement dates back to a 1979 feasibility study. The town became more actively involved in 2008.

Since then there has been a host of state and federal legislation related to energy credits and licensing.

On the state level, bills have dealt with allowing the state to let the town use the facility, zero emission renewable energy credits and virtual net metering, which would allow the town to get full retail credit for the power the site generates. However, there are some challenges in that area as a cap set by the state has essentially been met. Town officials said state Sen. Kevin Witkos is working on the issue.

Federally – in 2014 – President Barack Obama signed the Collinsville Renewable Energy Production Act, which facilitates a process for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to reinstate dam licensing to the town, after which it has two years to begin construction. One requirement of the act is that the town demonstrate the project is in the public’s interest. Additionally, FERC would beed to “supplement” any existing environmental impact statements.

Circa 2014, the town began seeking private firms as partners for the project. The town has begun negotiations with at least two other firms that later backed out of the project.

On Wednesday, several residents listened to the presentation. The public comment portion of the meeting was lively but most comments referenced the proposed dog park in town. One resident, however, spoke in favor of re-developing hydropower.

Mary Fletcher encouraged the board to “support and proceed with the hydroelectric” project.

“I hope you will consider looking at it very carefully,” she said.

William F. Scully, operations manager at Canton Hydro, LLC, was not at this particular meeting but spoke to Compass earlier this week.

He said re-energizing the upper Collinsville dam would be a great way to produce clean energy while improving recreational and ecological aspects on the Farmington River.

“It’s an incredibly dynamic project,” Scully said.

Retrofitting existing dams, when appropriate, is the perfect way to reduced dependence on other energy sources, according to Scully.

“This has a direct impact on how we run our lives,” Scully said. “It’s by far the most renewable form of energy for this region.”

Scully and his partners, Armin Moehrle and Claus Maier, have re-developed hydro facilities in Vermont, most notably with a multi-faceted project at the historic Vermont Tissue Mill on the Walloomsac River in North Bennington. The group is also nearing the construction phase for a facility in Pownal, VT.

For Scully, Collinsville is a great geographic location – as he has family in Torrington.

“I really like the site,” he said about looking at Canton. “There are far worse things than spending time in Canton. A lot of it was geography.”

The company is looking to retrofit the existing powerhouse on the river with one 785 kW turbine.

Based a 20-year flow history and the turbine specs, the company estimates the site would generate an average of 4.3 gigawatt hours (GWh) per year.

Town officials estimate it could produce enough power to power nearly 500 “average” homes in the state.

The project would be a “run of the river” facility that would include flashboards and a fish ladder. Some feel the flashboards will have the fringe benefit of raising the water level on the “mill pond” portion of the river in Collinsville, a popular spot with canoe, kayak and Stand-Up Paddleboard enthusiasts.

One key element to the raising of the flashboards is the enhancement of the recreational use of the impoundment,” Chief Administrative Officer Robert Skinner wrote in a memo to selectmen. “The Town of Canton has identified enhancing fishing and kayaking as priorities. Currently the impoundment and upstream reach are used frequently for these purposes. The use was more significant when the historic flashboards improved the upstream reach. Boater buoys and caution signage will be places upstream of the primary spillway to warn of the dam hazard.” 

Scully said the goal is to not only generate power but also do so in a way that people really don’t even know it is happening.

Scully said hydro has long-term economic and environmental benefits.

“It is financially viable,” Scully said of the Collinsville site. “We know that.”

“I started hydro thinking long-term,” he added. “Nobody thinks about next week.”

Skinner’s presentation, as well as a memo prepared for the meeting, can be viewed below or at https://www.scribd.com/collections/15517719/Canton-Hydro

Canton Compass will look at other aspects and viewpoints of this issue in the coming months. Readers can also comment via the guidelines below:

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