by Joshua Maloni
The Village of Lewiston Board will meet Tuesday to discuss underwater hydropower turbines. Trustees are expected to meet with members of local fishing groups the Niagara River Anglers Association and Niagara County Fisheries Development Board.
A representative from ECOsponsible Inc. may also be in attendance. The East Aurora-based company is exploring the possibility of utilizing hydrokinetic turbines in the lower Niagara River. Project manager Dennis Ryan originally met with the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees on Sept. 17, 2012, to inform elected officials of his group's intent.
In an email Monday to Niagara Frontier Publications, Ryan wrote, "The Niagara River Community Hydro Project (NRCHP) is evaluating several sites located within the permit boundary areas delineated in our FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) issued preliminary permits for placement of our 'fish friendly' low impact hydro kinetic turbines.
"The environmental firm 'Ecology and Environment' is coordinating our environmental analysis and study plan. The project is still in the preliminary phase and we do not have any defined locations set forth to discuss with the public.
"At this time we are having pre consultation discussions with several Federal, State and local regulatory agencies along with stakeholders who responded to the notice provided by FERC as part of our permit approval process.
"As our study areas become more clearly defined we plan on having several public outreach meetings in the community to discuss our plan and obtain feedback."
In a document filed March 25, 2011, in the Federal Register, under the heading "Department of Energy," it reads, "On September 15, 2010, ECOsponsible, Inc., filed an application for a preliminary permit, pursuant to section 4(f) of the Federal Power Act (FPA), proposing to study the feasibility of the Niagara River Community Hydro Project #2 (Niagara #2 Project or project) to be located on the Niagara River, near Lewiston, in Niagara County, New York. ... The proposed project would consist of the following: (1) Five hydrokinetic turbine support structures, each containing four 10-foot-diameter Spitfire Horizontal Axis Turbines rated at approximately 250 kilowatts (kW) each; (2) a 150-kilovolt (kV) underwater transmission line connecting the triads and transmitting electricity to an onshore collection substation and point of interconnection switchyard; (3) an operations and maintenance building to house the command center of the project's supervisory control and data acquisition system; and (4) appurtenant facilities. The estimated annual generation of the Niagara #2 Project would be 550,000 megawatt-hours."
ECOsponsible was reportedly looking at a riverfront lot on South First Street, near the corners of Tuscarora and Guard streets. Property owner Barbara Kivi confirmed talks had taken place, but are now stalled. She declined further comment.
In his filings with FERC, Ryan describes ECOsponsible as a company "that is dedicated to developing clean, renewable energy within the region and is pursuing the development of this project as part of our efforts to accelerate the availability of new renewable energy supply to consumers of electricity."
Village of Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano said Monday it's his understanding ECOsponsible could contribute electricity back into the local grid. Pending National Grid's approval, that electricity could be sold to the village at a lower rate and used to power certain municipal entities.
"It would be extra electricity going into the power grid, which is already there," Collesano said. "I imagine it could lower the rates. This is why we're looking at it. We're saying, 'If that's the case, is there the possibility that the village could buy electricity to power Water Street ... or could it be hiked up as far as the municipal building (as an example)?' He's saying, 'Yeah, that could happen,' but it would all have to be approved by National Grid."
Lewiston business owners inquired last week about the status of the turbine proposal. In a dialogue with members of the Niagara River Region Chamber of Commerce, a seemingly dismayed Niagara County Fisheries Development Board alleged it was kept in the dark.
" 'Why is no one letting the fishing community know about this?" was a question posed on a chamber member's Facebook wall. "It's a shame that once again the Lower Niagara River seems to be getting the shaft and many groups seem to be willing to let it happen."
In a second email to NFP, Ryan wrote, "We have reached out to the fishing charter boat community. Their feedback is critical. Recently we obtained some project feedback from a Niagara River anglers group that was so critical we had to revisit and rule out one area of the river; changing our proposed project configuration as it could interfere with the (fishermen)."
Village of Lewiston trustees will hold an open forum on the turbine idea prior to their regularly scheduled 6 p.m. meeting.
History and Permit
ECOsponsible was provided an order issuing a preliminary permit and granting priority to file license application from FERC on July 6, 2011.
In the permit's "project proposal," it states the 550,000 megawatt-hours would be sold to a local utility.
It also reads, "Potential development applicants are required to consult with appropriate state and federal resource agencies and affected Indian tribes, conduct all reasonable studies requested by the agencies, and solicit comments on the applications before they are filed. Further, permit conditions have been framed to ensure that the permittee does not tie up a site without pursuing in good faith a study of the project's feasibility. ... A preliminary permit does not authorize a permittee to undertake construction of the proposed project."
Under the section "permit information," it states, "The purpose of a preliminary permit is to preserve the right of the permit holder to have the first priority in applying for a license for the project that is being studied. Because a permit is issued only to allow the permit holder to investigate the feasibility of a project while the permittee conducts investigations and secures necessary data to determine the feasibility of the proposed project and to prepare a license application, it grants no land-disturbing or other property rights."
Under FERC's terms and conditions of a preliminary permit, it reads, "The purpose of the permit is to maintain priority of application for a license during the term of the permit while the permittee conducts investigations and secures data necessary to determine the feasibility of the proposed project and, if the project is found to be feasible, prepares an acceptable application for license. In the course of whatever field studies the permittee undertakes, the permittee shall at all times exercise appropriate measures to prevent irreparable damage to the environment of the proposed project. This permit does not authorize the permittee to conduct any ground-disturbing activities or grant a right of entry onto any lands. The permittee must obtain any necessary authorizations and comply with any applicable laws and regulations to conduct any field studies."
If all required steps are taken, the preliminary permit is valid for "36 months from the effective date, or on the date that a development application submitted by the permittee has been accepted for filing, whichever occurs first."
In correspondence last year, Ryan updated FERC on what he called the "Niagara River Community Hydro Project." In July, he wrote:
•"In May 2012, The Niagara River Community Hydro Project received an LOI (letter of intent) from a potential financing source for the amount of $28,000,000."
•"ECOsponsible, Inc. has focused its outreach efforts thus far on meeting with and select turbine manufacturing companies and other possible vendors to evaluate each company's products for possible use in the project. We had substantial meetings with over 12 twelve prospective technology related vendors during the past year.
"On July 11, 2012 ECOsponsible signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Ocean Renewable Power Corporation of Maine to provide our project with expertise and hardware necessary to develop the Niagara River Community Hydro Project."
•"During the first half of 2012 ECOsponsible has executed two (2) Letters of Intent (LOI) to purchase two potential sites for our projects initial location in each permit boundary area (the other is in Buffalo). Each parcel of property includes riparian access and actual deeded ownership of the Niagara River Bottom.
"Now that we have clarity related to the proposed project locations, and technology used we have begun to compose a site characterization study to confirm the sites will work for our project. We have engaged the services of Ecology and Environment as our Environmental Consultant and Project Planner. They will be the lead consultation point for this project."
In December, Ryan wrote:
•"Since our last submission, the Company has been actively engaged, both formally and informally, with various stakeholders. The Company has engaged in these consultations with the purpose of providing information on the project, to build support and establish cooperative relationships, and to gather information needed to evaluate potential issues related to the construction and operation of the project."
Ryan twice conveyed ECOsponsible's intent to hold public hearings to obtain input from residents and other interested parties.
Involvement with the Village of Lewiston
Eight days after meeting with Ryan in September, Collesano penned a letter in support for ECOsponsible. The letter read, in part, "The Lewiston Village Board was impressed by your power-point presentation on September 17, 2012 in which you explained your company's proposed hydro-project in the Lower Niagara River based on a site in the Village. The project seems well-suited for the site and is compatible with the Village Board's policy of encouraging sensible development in a manner consistent with the character with the Village. We encourage efforts toward the go-green" goal of utilizing alternative energy sources and, with the mighty Niagara providing such a source, we can clearly see the wisdom behind your plan.
"Accordingly, on behalf of the Village Board, this is to express our support for the project and to advise you of our intent to work with you as more detailed plans become available and the project progresses through the various required regulatory and administrative milestones that you described.
"We wish you the best of luck going forward."
On Monday, Collesano said the Village Board supports the concept, but can't approve or reject any projects in the Niagara River.
"We talked to them. They came to one of our open meetings and discussed what they wanted to do," Collesano said. "We listened to them. They were looking for support. We gave them our support. However, during our discussions when we were talking to them, we did say, 'Well, you're going through all the channels?' They said 'Yes.' We said, 'Well, you have to talk to everybody," which they said they had to do."
Collesano said it was his understanding ECOsponsible was supposed to speak with the anglers.
In FERC's order issuing preliminary permit and granting priority to file license application, the Department of the Interior recommended, "ECOsponsible be required to coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to consider development and operations that would be compatible with existing fish and wildlife resources. Interior also recommends that the following be stipulated in any preliminary permit issued for the proposed project: 'the permittee shall design and conduct, at project cost, as soon as practicable after issuance of the project's preliminary permit, preparatory studies in cooperation with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. These studies shall address, but not be limited to, the effects of project construction and operations on the movements of fish and other aquatic organisms, the reproduction and survival of aquatic or semi-aquatic fish and wildlife resources, recreational fishing and navigation, wetland and riparian wildlife, vegetative species, and historical and archaeological resources. The studies shall also identify and evaluate general measures to avoid, offset, and/or reduce adverse project-caused impacts on fish and wildlife resources.' "
In his second email, Ryan wrote, "In reality our concern for the environment is the reason we are pursuing this project."
He said ECOsponsible, in the development of the Niagara River Community Hydro Project, is following more than a half-dozen environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act and the Clean Water Act.
At the September meeting with Village of Lewiston trustees, ECOsponsible also floated the idea of building a school on South First Street (to operate in conjunction with using the Niagara River to generate electricity). Collesano said he doesn't think the school portion of the plan is still in play.
Note: The portions of the written correspondence cited above appear "as is" and were not corrected for style or grammar.