In its early heyday well over a century ago, Saugerties industry ran on water power. In the early to mid 19th century, the power of running water attracted industry. Later, industry declined as electricity and steam replaced water as the provider of power to manufacturing, and rail transport replaced rivers and canals as the means to get products to their markets.
It seems appropriate that an entrepreneur is seeking to produce electricity from the power of the Esopus Creek water running over the Saugerties dam. The short spillway on the north side of the dam that restrains the Esopus Creek in the heart of Saugerties is part of an earlier scheme to use the dam as a source of hydroelectric power.
Now Saugerties Community Hydro founder Joel Herm of Rhinebeck plans to revive the project, possibly through a community choice aggregation (CCA) arrangement. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) opened a comment period on May 14 for a proposed two-million-dollar 1.52-megawatt hydroelectric generating plant that would revive the dam as a public power supply. The comment period will last 60 days.
Herm believes water power best meets the criteria of clean power production at a reasonable cost. Given a New York State mandate to switch from coal-fired plants to clean power sources, Herm said, he believes solar power will be a strong contributor to New York’s future.
So far, FERC appears to see the water-power project as worthwhile and Herm as competent, Herm reported. The next step will be more detailed plans and public comment.
Compared to large installations of solar panels or windmills, water power has little effect on the landscape. While solar panels reduce the pollution involved in producing energy, the panels require materials whose mining and construction damage the environment. A small water-power plant which can produce the same amount of power as solar panels on several acres of land can be tucked behind a waterfall.
The description of the proposed project in FERC’s announcement reads: “The proposed project would consist of the following: (1) a 140-acre impoundment with a normal volume of 826 acre-feet at a normal maximum surface elevation of 46.5 feet National Geodetic Vertical Datum of 1929; (2) an existing 350-foot-long, 32-foot-high concrete gravity dam with a 340-foot-long spillway; (3) an existing 30-foot-long, 9-foot-high auxiliary spillway; (4) an existing 40-foot-long, six-foot diameter penstock; (5) two new 759-kilowatt horizontal Kaplan bulb turbines; (6) a new 15-foot-long, ten-foot-wide powerhouse; (7) a new three-phase, 13.2-kilovolt, 250-foot long transmission line extending from the powerhouse to a proposed interconnection point west of the project; and (8) appurtenant facilities. The proposed project would have an annual generation of 6000 megawatt-hours.”
The primary purpose of the powerhouse mentioned in the description would be to shield the generators, Herm said.
Herm, who describes himself as “an Illinois farm boy,” owns a ten-acre property with access to a small waterfall in Kingston which was believed to have provided power to a nearby mansion. He intends to revive a dam there to power his home.
While Herm says he is interested in creating a community choice aggregation (CCA) system – an agreement under which a governing body purchases power in bulk on behalf of its residents – he acknowledged that his proposed dam would not produce enough for the entire village. He is also aware that the village is considering bulk purchase of power through an existing CCA. With his project probably needing a few years to complete, Herm sees the village government as joining the CCA it is now contemplating, and then switching to his offer when that agreement comes up for renewal in a year or two.
A previous plan by the current owner of the property, John Mullen, was stymied by government requirements, which he said made the attempt to get regulatory approval too difficult to continue. However, much of the needed infrastructure is in place now. The demand for clean energy has increased. And while the bureaucracy eventually stymied Mullen, he said water power was the best way to generate electricity.
Mullen said he and Herm had agreed on a price for his property. The deal has not yet been completed. Mullen said he hasn’t heard from Herm recently.
Herm said his lawyer and Mullen’s lawyer are working out minor details. He is still very interested.
Comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission under 6000 characters can be filed at ferconline.ferc.gov/QuickComment.aspx. Longer comments can be submitted in writing through the U.S. Postal Service to Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary; Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street NE, Room 1A, Washington, DC 20426. Use the docket number P-15111-000 when submitting comments.