Orchard City is getting down to final decision time on its proposed small hydro power generating project.
Town officials were highly encouraged almost two years ago when the idea first came up for generating electricity to heat the water treatment plant using the inflow of raw water to turn a turbine and generator.
Since that first blush, however, estimated costs have escalated over 300 percent, design and planning work got bogged down, plans were incomplete, a key engineer resigned from the project, and the impact of various regulations on the idea has extended its estimated payback period.
The idea originally carried an estimated pricetag in the $80,000 to $100,000 price range. The town's 2013 budget includes $270,000 for the project.
The town board conducted a public hearing on Dec. 12 to discuss the project. The hearing is part of the public process mandated by FERC, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, for obtaining necessary federal approvals.
The town wants to install a 22 kilowatt generating turbine at the water treatment plant that hopefully would save up to $10,000 in propane costs for heat that the town has spent in previous years.
The cost of propane has recently come down, reducing the cost of heating the treatment plant. That has negated some savings originally calculated in the project and extended even further the estimated payback period for the hydro installation.
A regulatory snag has also crept into plans. The 22 kilowatt generator the town plans to install will actually generate more electricity than the treatment plant needs. But a regulation prohibits the town from getting credit for the excess electricity generated.
If the town isn't able to get credit for its excess produced electricity through credits on other meters it owns, then the project may collapse because the payback could disappear altogether.
If the town could apply its excess electricity to DMEA charges on other of the town's meters, payback on the project would be improved.
Mayor Don Suppes has scheduled a presentation to the DMEA board of directors in January to discuss the policy and see if there is any possibility of the town getting credit on the excess electricity the proposed hydro generator could produce and put into the DMEA grid.
There was one town resident who spoke at the Dec. 12 public hearing on the hydro project. Dave Stueck was a candidate for town trustee last spring. He told the trustees that he is a big fan of the hydro power idea.
"It's a shame we can't use the (water flow) to generate electricity. There is no reason we shouldn't be able to generate electricity in steps all the way down the mountain."
But the town's proposal has run into a number of snags, Stueck observed. There are "too many complications involved," he said, acknowledging the problem of more electricity being generated at the treatment plant than can be used there.
Stueck suggested instead of investing in the hydro idea that the town put $100,000 into the DMEA community solar array project. DMEA's community solar array program takes up-front payments from electricity customers, and then over a period of 25 years the utility rebates small credits against customers' monthly bills for electricity generated by the company's two solar arrays. The program gives DMEA customers who wish the opportunity of "investing" in locally generated solar energy.
The board of trustees took no action on Stueck's idea and is content to await the mayor's report after the first of the year on his discussions with DMEA officials.blog comments powered by Disqus