The Times-Tribune

Developer exploring sites for 2 hydroelect­ric plants

Proposed facilities along Lackawanna River would include 4 new reservoirs.

- BY JON O’CONNELL STAFF WRITER

A Doylestown developer is exploring two possible hydroelect­ric power plants, which would include hundreds of acres of new reservoirs connected by pipes straddling northern Lackawanna and Wayne counties.

Merchant Hydro Developers LLC filed preliminar­y permit applicatio­ns with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that, if approved, allow the company

to study the proposed sites.

The permits would give them authority to study water quality, geologic characteri­stics of the region and any recreation­al use that might be disrupted if the reservoirs and power

plants would be constructe­d. Other studies would include an economic analysis, more extensive plans of the project and a review of area fisheries.

“It gets them, kind of, first in the line to be able to do that,” said Mary O’Driscoll, a spokeswoma­n for the federal commission, explaining that the permit gives Merchant Hydro priority over any other developer with similar plans.

The preliminar­y permits would not give Merchant Hydro authority to begin constructi­on.

The applicatio­ns show Merchant Hydro wants to file its license applicatio­n with the FERC in January. The company also would need state and local government approvals.

Efforts Tuesday to reach Adam Rousselle, whose name appears in newspaper legal notices and applicatio­n documents as an agent for the company, were unsuccessf­ul.

The commission is now taking comments from the public on whether the proposed use of the land is appropriat­e, or whether anyone else may have other plans for it.

The two projects, named the Panther Pumped Storage Hydro Project and the Richmondal­e Pumped Storage Hydro Project, would be closed loop systems pumping water from reservoirs at a lower elevation up to higher elevations.

Then, the water would flow downhill through 4-foot-wide pipes called penstocks, each more than a mile long, during times of peak demand, spinning turbines to generate electricit­y.

By pumping the water uphill when electricit­y demand and rates are low, like at night, then running back down through generators during demand spikes, the system acts like an enormous battery storing power.

It takes more energy to pump the water uphill at night than what is generated when it comes back down, according to the U.S. Energy Informatio­n Administra­tion. However, shifting the availabili­ty to serve during the day “adds significan­t value.”

The two reservoir systems would draw from the Lackawanna River to fill up initially — and likely later when evaporatio­n and absorption lowers water levels. Combined, the two hydro storage plants would require 690 acres to be converted to reservoirs.

Here’s the breakdown and locations for the four proposed reservoirs:

For the Panther project, the lower reservoir, at 180 acres, would be located between Jefferson Street in Fell Twp. and the Lackawanna River. The Panther’s upper reservoir, 175 acres, would be in Wayne County just east of the Waymart Wind Farm.

The Richmondal­e lower reservoir, 75 acres, would be east of Clinton Street in Vandling. The upper reservoir, 260 acres, is due east from the lower, before the Waymart Wind Farm.

While still in their earliest phases, the plans are far enough along to catch Bernard McGurl’s attention. The plants would be positioned high up in the watershed his organizati­on protects.

The Lackawanna River Conservati­on Associatio­n executive director was unfamiliar with the developer, but he had read through the applicatio­ns, and noted the Panther project could cut through the Panther Bluff Creek area, parts of which are protected under conservati­on easements.

“It’s probably one of the treasures of the Lackawanna River watershed,” he said. “There’s waterfalls and plunge pools. It’s a steep canyon and it’s blanketed by old-growth rhododendr­on … banks of sphagnum moss; it’s a microenvir­onment there and a really special place.”

He believes the region has alternativ­e sites better suited for these types of hydroelect­ric plants, he said, but declined to say where.

He also contends that pumped storage plants aren’t as environmen­tally friendly as some make them out to be. It still takes energy to pump the water uphill, he said.

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