Keep city hydro plant, expert urges

Three turbines named Faith, Hope and Charity sit in the pump house at the Watertown Municipal Power Plant on Marble Street. Kara Dry/Watertown Daily Times

WATERTOWN — An energy expert insists the city should keep its 94-year-old hydroelectric plant on Marble Street.

John “Skip” Trimble, managing director of AMBER Energy U.S. Inc, Severna Park, Md., strongly recommends that the city not sell the hydro plant while seeking a solution to millions of dollars lost in hydro revenues.

Mr. Trimble, whose firm was hired by the city to study the issue, predicts that the electricity market will bounce back in about decade after the hydro industry takes off.

He said keep the hydro plant.

“It’s a legacy asset,” he told members of the city’s hydro committee on Thursday night. “It’s a legacy, once-in-a-lifetime asset.”

The city’s Hydroelectric Task Force was formed this spring to explore options on how to operate the hydro plant after the lucrative contract to provide hydroelectric power to National Grid ends in 2029.

According to the contract, National Grid is paying the city about 22 cents per kwh, when it’s valued at about 1.5 cents per kwh. When it expires in 2029, the power company will pay the city 34.78 cents per kwh.

In 1991, the city began the franchise agreement to sell electricity to National Grid.

While the city’s hydro plant is one of many small systems in New York, the contract with National Grid is unique, he said. No other municipality has such a lucrative contract.

Working with a team of city officials, Mr. Trimble will look at “all options” on what to do once the National Grid contract ends. He said “it’s the right time” to start looking at the issue.

He gave a 75-minute presentation to the task force, explaining the complicated energy market and what kind of things the task force should be looking at.

City Manager Kenneth A. Mix said city staff will put together data and information in the next two weeks that Mr. Trimble and the task force will use when they analyze the city’s options.

The team includes City Comptroller James E. Mills, City Engineer Michael Delaney, Water Superintendent Vicky Murphy, City Attorney Robert J. Slye and Jeffrey Hammond, who oversees the hydro plant.

It should take about six months to come up with a recommendation for City Council, Mr. Trimble said.

AMBER Energy, which has an expertise in energy management, efficiency and capacity, will be paid $10,000 for its services. Former Mayor Joseph M. Butler Jr. is the hydro committee’s chair.

The Marble Street plant supplies electricity by creating hydroelectric power through water flow from its three turbines — known as Faith, Hope and Charity.

The hydro plant supplies electricity to more than 20 city buildings and properties. After using the energy from the hydroelectric plant for its buildings, the city sells its excess power to National Grid.

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