by Joshua Maloni
ECOsponsible project manager Dennis Ryan met Tuesday with Village of Lewiston trustees to update them on his company's intent to use the lower Niagara River to generate electricity through hydrokinetic turbines.
"Our project is still in a preliminary phase," Ryan said, adding he's met with 37 state and federal stakeholders. "We've had a lot of meetings, and it's been a lot of positive feedback."
Ryan originally met with the Village of Lewiston Board of Trustees on Sept. 17, 2012, to inform elected officials of his Niagara River Community Hydro Project concept.
In an email Monday to the Sentinel, Ryan wrote, "The Niagara River Community Hydro Project ... 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 hydrokinetic turbines."
On Sept. 15, 2010, ECOsponsible filed an application for a preliminary permit with FERC to study the feasibility of utilizing a portion of the Niagara River bordering the Village of Lewiston for hydrokinetic turbines. Ryan's paperwork indicated "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" and "a 150-kilovolt (kV) underwater transmission line connecting the triads and transmitting electricity to an onshore collection substation and point of interconnection switchyard."
However, he said Tuesday that those specs have changed as ECOsponsible moves toward the filing of a preliminary application document.
ECOsponsible was originally looking at an available piece of land on South First Street. But Ryan said he met with Riverside Motel owner Bruce Blakelock, who informed him of an "Artpark drift" in that area. That, coupled with a ravine, made First Street a no-go for the Niagara River Community Hydro Project.
"Even if it was a good spot, we were going to have a problem with fishermen. ... We can't do that," Ryan said. "We're moving forward; we've got some locations."
He told trustees his company is now eyeing the shoreline near The Silo Restaurant. Ryan said there is flat ground near the middle of the river in that area.
In an email to the Sentinel Thursday, Ryan wrote, "The optimum location of our pilot (turbine generating unit) location is chosen based on several variables: the current; the bottom characteristics; distance to end user or the grid; combined with a host of environmental variables such as fish spawning habitat and other variable(s) or considerations.
"At this point, we are looking at the very middle of the river, along the international border where the water is between 45-48 feet deep. The arrays proposed footprint on the bottom is about 100 (feet) wide by 100 (feet) deep."
Turbines are roughly 15 feet off the ground and offer a "substantial amount of space or water between the river level and the top of the turbine," Ryan told the Village Board.
On Sept. 25, Lewiston Mayor Terry Collesano penned a letter of support for Ryan's concept, which had been presented eight days earlier. Writing that he represented the full board, Collesano said 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" of the municipality.
Trustees expressed satisfaction with what Ryan said this week, too.
"It sounds like you're going through all the right steps and everything, and taking it slow," said Deputy Mayor Bruce Sutherland.
"I think it's outstanding that you're taking into consideration everybody else's concern and find one spot that may not work and still pursue it looking for a reasonable spot that's going to hopefully make everybody happy," said Trustee Dennis Brochey.
Sutherland stressed it's imperative Ryan keep local fishing interests in the loop.
"The fisheries industry here is like No. 1 in the wintertime. It just really brings in a lot, a lot of people," Sutherland said. "We have to co-exist with them. We have to do that. I know you're working on that."
In correspondence last year with FERC, Ryan wrote, "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."
He told trustees Tuesday that "We've got a BA, a biological assessment, that is done on sturgeon and it's done with our turbines, involving sturgeon and salmon."
Ryan said acoustic data has revealed 99 percent of fish swim around the turbines, while the other 1 percent can easily swim through the turbine. He said the turbine blades only move at a rate of 21 revolutions per minute, and that there is a 4-foot gap between them. Moreover, he indicated there is no significant impact on the fishes' habits or procreation practices.
"That's why I chose this turbine company, because they have the data (and) it's proven to not have a negative impact on the environment," Ryan said. "And combine that with our installation method, which is zero impact, no digging, there's no dredging, and we've got a pretty good formula for success."
Ryan is supposed to meet next Tuesday with Frank Campbell of the Niagara River Anglers Association.
"We're looking forward to some feedback (from) them," he said.
ECOsponsible plans to hold a pair of public information sessions in either May or June.
On Monday, Collesano told the Sentinel there was a possibility ECOsponsible could provide low-cost electricity to the Village of Lewiston. Ryan confirmed that Tuesday, and offered some specific examples.
"The opportunity exists for us to possibly work together with the village to generate some power that could be used to offset some of the electrical costs that the village currently has right now," he said.
"If we were able to work out a deal, what I'd like to see ... we would love to have the opportunity to be able to generate power from the Niagara River to power all 48 lights that are in the (Water Street) park area," Ryan explained.
He estimated the existing lights use 5,300 watts of electricity annually. ECOsponsible would change out the lights and use LED replacements. "Those same 48 lights that use 5,300 watts of power right now, if we were to replace them with LEDs, would only use 572 watts."
That, Ryan said, would result in 42,570 less kilowatt-hours of power per year. In environmental terms, he said the village would save the equivalent of 34,000 pounds of coal or 95,000 pounds of CO2. In financial terms, he said LED lights would save the village $4,700 in electrical costs and $2,968 in maintenance fees (changing light bulbs; LED lights have a lifespan of 12.4 years). With LED lights, the village could qualify for additional environmental tax credits.
"We would handle the installation of the lights and the ongoing monitoring," Ryan said.
In his filings with FERC, Ryan described 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."