City officials were surprised in February to learn that a New Jersey renewable energy company is interested in developing a hydroelectric site on Sewall’s Island.
Watertown officials had been talking about pursuing a hydro plant on the city-owned island in recent years.
But the New Jersey company, LinkPast Solutions, filed a preliminary application two months ago with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build two hydro plants on Sewall’s Island and develop recreational kayaking opportunities.
Like he does on occasion, City Councilman Patrick J. Hickey was searching on the FERC website that on a wintry afternoon when he was “shocked” to find out that the company filed the preliminary application with FERC.
Plans call for the New Jersey company to construct two buildings that would house the hydro plants near the site of an abandoned plant on Sewall’s Island and demolish an existing dam. All that’s left of that plant is a skeleton of a building.
LinkPast has also submitted a proposal to build two hydro plants at Felts Mills that would provide power for Fort Drum. The military installation will be looking for another source of energy because the biomass plant on post closed in March.
This winter, the company submitted an application to conduct a feasibility study of its proposal for Sewall’s Island and four other islands in the Black River, according to paperwork filed with the federal commission.
The company also would develop world-class whitewater kayak courses on both sides of Sewall’s Island.
In February, Brian McArthur, president of LinkPast Solutions, said he decided to look into hydro because of what New York has to offer in renewable energy and its new laws passed in recent years.
“We feel it’s the right time to make a proposal,” he said back in February.
LinkPast Solutions is new company, with the Sewall’s Island and Fort Drum proposals as its first venture into renewable energy.
The company filed the application for Sewall’s Island on Feb. 3 and on January 25 for its Fort Drum proposal.
That’s the last time Councilman Hickey heard about the company’s plans to pursue its projects. City Manager Kenneth A. Mix also has not heard a word about the company’s plans.
But that doesn’t surprise Councilman Hickey.
“It will take some time to get through the process,” he said.
He only hopes that the city hasn’t lost out on pursuing its own project on the island and applying for a FERC license.
But the New Jersey company will have between 12 and 16 months to prove it can develop hydro and then it takes a few years more to go through the complicated FERC process to finally see if it gets approved, he said.
On March 9, FERC’s office of energy projects in Washington, DC, notified LinkPast Solutions that the paperwork submitted for the Sewall’s Island was “deficient.”
The company was told that it had to provide such additional information on specific information about the exact dimensions and configuration of the structures making up the project; the age and condition of transmission lines that would be used; and specific information about the annual energy it would produce and the capacity of its turbines. The company also must provide the addresses of all the tribes of the Seneca Nation impacted by the proposed project.
The company was given 45 days to provide the information or by April 23.
On Feb. 23, FERC also asked for similar information about the proposed Fort Drum project in Felts Mills, plus additional information about the site of the project, about a dam included in it and for a map of the boundaries of the project.
Mr. McArthur did not return a reporter’s phone calls to seek comment about the status of the two projects and the letters from FERC requesting more information.
Watertown still holds the FERC license for the abandoned plant on the island.
And Convalt Energy — the company that plans to build a 300,000-square-foot solar panel manufacturing plant near the Watertown International Airport in the town of Hounsfield — still has the rights to Sewall’s Island with the city.
Hari Achuthan, Convalt’s CEO and president, said his company still has control of the site because it still has a one-year option to explore developing the city-owned island for hydro power.
“We have our plans,” Mr. Achuthan said, adding he hopes to make an announcement in about two months.
Getting a FERC license approved is a monumental task, Councilman Hickey, who has collected two binders of information about the city’s hydroelectric plant on Marble Street.
The city’s FERC license for its hydro plant — conisting of turbines called Faith, Hope and Charity — coming up for reapplication in 2035. The city received its last approval for relicensing back on June 16, 1995.
Councilman Hickey said the city will most likely begin the relicensing application between three and five years before its due.
At least 5 years before a license expires, the licensee must file a notice of intent declaring whether or not it intends to seek a relicense for its project, according to FERC’s website. At least 2 years before a license expires, the licensee must file an application for new license.
Councilman Hickey stressed it takes even longer for a new license to go through the process before it gets a green light from FERC. Applicants go through a three stages of the Traditional Licensing Process, which includes getting approvals from a series of state and federal agencies and conducting a host of studies.
Resource agencies and tribes also have an opportunity for comment on the draft application. A meeting must be set up if substantive disagreements exist.
The third stage consists of an applicant applying for the final application with FERC.
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