MIDDLEBURY — The Holm family is trying to partner with an out-of-state firm to re-energize plans for a small hydroelectric project at the Otter Creek falls in downtown Middlebury.
It was last summer that the Holms announced they were pulling the plug on their efforts to install a water turbine near the falls, a project they maintained could generate around 5 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.
The turbine would have harnessed electricity from the creek as it flows through a flume under a building (owned by the Holms) that borders the south side of the Otter Creek falls next to the Battell Bridge. But the family, after spending considerable resources in design and engineering fees, withdrew its application before the Vermont Public Service Board, citing a lengthy permitting process and a disagreement with the town of Middlebury over water rights.
“This project has transformed from an adrenaline rush to fiscal suicide,” Anders Holm said last August when he confirmed the project had been scuttled.
But recent, major changes in Vermont’s energy landscape and the prospect of bringing an experienced, well-financed partner onto the local scene have prompted Holm to consider re-energizing the company, known as Middlebury Electric. Holm said he could not yet share the name of the interested partner, except to say the entity hails from New York state and has had success in developing small-scale hydro projects.
“This entity had been following (the Otter Creek hydro proposal) for years, and has been interested,” said Holm, who said the company expressed interest in taking over the project at a later date.
That date may be approaching, according to Holm, owing in part to two substantial, looming changes to the state’s energy portfolio.
First, there is the case of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant, which supplies an estimated one-third of the state’s electricity. Vermont state senators served notice in February that they are not inclined to support renewal of the Vernon-based reactor’s license when it expires in 2012, in wake of a tritium leak, an inadequate decommissioning fund and other issues.
Second, Vermont officials recently negotiated a new, 26-year contract with HydroQuebec, through which the state’s two largest utilities will purchase about 225 megawatts of power. Holm believes a shutdown of Vermont Yankee will leave the state scrambling for renewable power sources, and he doesn’t believe the HydroQuebec deal is a good one. Vermont, according to Holm, will find itself scrambling to fill the void left by Vermont Yankee and what he said will be an inadequate supply from HydroQuebec.
“When it was announced we were going to get a bad deal from HydroQuebec, I called (the potential partner in New York) and said ‘It’s showtime,’” Holm said.
Holm is hoping to forge a deal that would see the New York state-based company lease the Holms’ property and spearhead the project through the permitting process. The applicant would remain known as Middlebury Electric, and would alter its bylaws to incorporate the new party, according to Holm.
“We would be a silent partner,” Holm said of his family’s involvement.
“It was essentially a father-son endeavor,” Holm added. “Now, it’s pretty much clear we need to turn it over to the pros.”
Public Service Board Clerk Sue Hudson said Middlebury Electric will need to re-file its application. It will be entertained as a new application, though research done under the previous submission could be considered during the review, she said. The project must earn a certificate of public good from the board is it is to proceed.
Holm realizes that time is of the essence, in terms of resubmitting the application. Among the requisite permitting tests will be measurement of water flows across the Otter Creek falls, which must be conducted during the low-flow period in August, according to Holm.
“I expect it to happen in a relatively short period of time,” he said of a deal and an application re-submission. “If we don’t do it this summer, there goes another year.”
Holm had yet to officially inform the town of his plans as the Addison Independent went to press.
Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said he is pleased to hear there is new momentum behind the hydro project. The selectboard has already gone on record as favoring the concept of a hydro project at the falls, as long as the plan can receive the requisite permits and the town preserves its interests.
“If it can be made to work, (the selectboard) would like to be working with them on it,” Tenny said.
Reporter John Flowers is at email@example.com.