Hydro plan passes new milestones

 

MIDDLEBURY — A long-in-the-works hydroelectric project slated for the Otter Creek Falls has taken two positive steps forward in recent weeks, with the Middlebury selectboard issuing a conditional letter of support and the Holm family submitting their plan for review by federal regulators.

The Holm family, functioning as “Middlebury Electric,” has been seeking to install a water turbine to harness the creek to produce electricity as it flows through a flume under a building (owned by the Holms) that borders the south side of the falls. It is a project that proponents say could generate more than 1 megawatt of electricity — enough to power the downtown area.

Anders Holm, the Middlebury selectboard and their respective attorneys have been discussing the hydro project in a series of private meetings to shape a project both camps can endorse.

The selectboard on April 26 sent a letter to Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) officials declaring conditional support for the Middlebury Electric project. That support, according to the letter, is based on the expectation of:

• A formal agreement between the town and Middlebury Electric to ensure that the hydro project is operated in the best interests of both the Holms and the town of Middlebury.

• That there be assurances of “minimal, continuous flow over the Upper Falls at all times, which meets the Aquatic Base Flows and complies with state and federal standards.”

• That Middlebury Electric obtain all permits necessary for the project “in a timely manner,” with the town reserving the right to participate “in any certification or approval process (es).”

• That Middlebury Electric present written confirmation from the Vermont Public Service Board that it does not need to obtain a Certificate of Public Good or other approvals from the PSB.

• That Middlebury Electric provide the town evidence that the project is “soundly financed and viable economically.”

It should be noted that Middlebury has already applied for party status in the Middlebury Electric FERC application based on the selectboard’s assertions that the town owns the deeded right to draw or use water that flows through the flume under the Holm building, and that the town owns land immediately downstream from the sluiceway that could be the location for the powerhouse for the proposed project.

Dave Hallam — who managed Middlebury’s Cross Street Bridge project — is serving as facilitator in the meetings between the selectboard and the Holms. He noted he is bound by a confidentiality agreement not to discuss specifics of recent talks, but said, “I think things are moving forward.”

Holm issued the following comment on the town’s letter of support:

“We are anxious to begin work improving the riverfront and restoring a vital source of emission free, locally produced, renewable energy. Therefore, we are encouraged by positive discussions with the town of Middlebury. This letter represents a significant step forward.”

Meanwhile, Middlebury Electric last week formally filed its project application for FERC review under the agency’s “Traditional Licensing Process.” The Holms are hoping that process leads to a speedy review of their project.

The application describes a plan that “will utilize an existing natural falls and restore the site by rehabilitating the existing intake and constructing a new powerhouse and penstock. The powerhouse will have a rated capacity of 1.59 Megawatts.”

Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.


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