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Otter Creek hydro proposal dries up

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August 16, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Planning for a proposed small-scale hydro project for the Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury has come to a screeching halt after a Vermont Department of Public Service (DPS) decision to take a pass on a grant request submitted by the project’s local developers.

Meanwhile, planning will go forward on the feasibility of using biomass technology to supply heating and power for Otter Creek Brewing, which did receive a DPS grant through the state’s Clean Energy Development Fund (CEDF).

State officials recently announced that they will award $2 million in grants to 17 projects designed to promote clean electric energy technologies and programs — primarily with respect to renewable energy resources — and the use of combined heat and power technologies.

The DPS received 34 proposals requesting more than $4.7 million in funding in response to the CEDF’s June request for grant proposals. Applicants submitted proposals for projects for pre-project financial assistance, small- and large-scale systems and special demonstration projects. Maximum grant awards of $25,000 were awarded for pre-project financial assistance, $60,000 for small-scale systems, and up to $250,000 for all other projects.

Anders Holm had hoped to secure $250,000 through the CEDF. He and his family would have used the grant to refine their plans for a hydro turbine to be installed under the Holms’ Main Street building, which borders the Battell Bridge on the south side of the falls in downtown Middlebury.

Holm calculates the turbine could generate between one and three megawatts of power. One megawatt can supply power to around 1,000 homes, according to Holm.

But planning for the project is now dead in the water, however, without one of the CEDF grants.

The news left Holm discouraged — especially in light of the fact that the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in June had given the Middlebury project a preliminary thumbs-up.

“It is disappointing, to say the least,” Holm said on Monday.

He noted the grant money would have helped further develop the Otter Creek hydro proposal, including funding research on how the power could be sold and delivered to prospective users. That’s information that potential investors want to see before infusing cash into such a project, Holm said.

Holm vowed to seek grant money from other sources in an effort to keep the hydro plan rolling. But absent an infusion of such cash, the project will remain dormant, he said.

“We’ll just have to dust ourselves off and try again,” Holm said.

The mood was decidedly different at the Otter Creek Brewing headquarters on Exchange Street. Company owner and President Morgan Wolaver confirmed the brewery had received a CEDF grant of $24,000. Otter Creek Brewing will match that grant and use the funds to look at the feasibility of using biomass to replace or supplement its heating fuel source or to generate some of its own electricity.

Examples of biomass include wood chips, biodiesel and grass pellets. Wolaver also wants to see if the company can tap its spent grains (used in the beer making process) as a biomass source. One of the keys, he explained, will be generating steam, which can be captured for heat.

“There’s a lot of work to do,” said Wolaver, who’d like to see the feasibility study completed by December.

“From that (study), we will determine the economics,” he said, noting that the costs and logistics of installing biomass processing equipment will have to be weighed.

Wolaver is optimistic the study will yield some positive results.

“I think something will come out of it, in terms of increasing our use of renewable energy,” Wolaver said.

Kelly Launder, DPS spokesperson, said she could not offer details on how the CEDF Investment Committee made its grant awards.

“The discussion is confidential, and we didn’t keep a record,” Launder said.

Lawrence Miller, chairman of the CEDF Investment Committee, could not be reached for comment as the Addison Independent went to press.

In a press release announcing the awards, Miller — a local businessman and founder/former owner of Otter Creek Brewing — said “we went with a very broad and open approach to this grant round and received an extremely strong set of proposals from diverse applicants, considering a broad variety of available technologies. We feel this is a tremendously encouraging start for the CEDF, and look forward to making additional grant, loan and equity rounds available to put this money to work for the benefit of all Vermonters.”

In addition to Otter Creek Brewing, this year’s other CEDF grant recipients included:

• Greensboro Hydro Feasibility, Greensboro Town Energy Committee.

• Lyndon State College Biomass Plant with CHP potential, Lyndon State College.

• Georgia Mountain Community Wind Project, Vermont Environmental Research Associates.

• Montpelier Community Energy System, City of Montpelier.

• A Demonstration of a 4.7 kW micro-CHP System, Steven Winter Associates.

• Champlain College Carriage House CHP Project, Vermont Gas Systems.

• Westminster Farms Anaerobic Digester, Clayton Goodell,

• Neighborhood Energy LLC Anaerobic Methane Digester, Neighborhood Energy LLC.

• Boucher BioPower LLC, Gilbert Boucher.

• Gervais Family Farm Methane Biogas Project, Gervais Family.

• Bennington Hydroelectric, Town of Bennington.

• Gas-Watt Energy Williston Project, Gas-Watt Energy LLC.

• Large-Scale Solar Energy System at Green Mountain Coffee, Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Inc.

• Large-Scale Solar Energy System at RSD Companies, RSD Transportation, Inc.

• Southern Vermont Recreation Center Solar PV System, Southern Vermont Recreation Center.

• AgNorth BioPowerLLC, Guy Palardy.

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