A Texas energy company that wants to harness Niagara River current to produce hydrokinetic power has been awarded two preliminary permits to investigate the cutting-edge electricity generation strategy.
Dallas-based Hydro Green Energy LLC has received preliminary permits from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study the feasibility of installing a total of 90 underwater turbines in the lower Niagara River.
Under the permits, Hydro Green will launch three-year evaluation of a 1.9-mile stretch of the Niagara River, known as "The Whirlpool," where it proposed to install 36 submerged turbines. A simultaneous, multi-year review will focus on a 1.2-mile section of the river, starting immediately upriver from the Lewiston-Queenston Bridge, to locate 54 current-powered generators.
The combined output of the turbines, which are 12-feet in diameter and would be suspended from anchored barges, would be able to generate up to 140 megawatts of electricity. By comparison, the New York Power Authority's Robert Moses Power Project has a capacity of 2,515 megawatts.
FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said the three-year preliminary permit period is all about inquiries by applicants, stakeholders and the public.
"By design, this is an investigatory period," Miller said. "A preliminary permit does not authorize construction or operation. They have three years to determine feasibility and then prepare a license application, which is a completely separate process."
According to a 12-month schedule of activities Hydro Green filed with FERC, the company has been gathering data on the sites and studying a myriad of issues related to the project. But the project will "go public" before the end of the year.
"We are in the process of planning an initial stakeholder outreach meeting, which will take place in December," said Mark R. Stover, Hydro Green's vice president, governmental and community affairs.
Among the group's intending to have a seat at the table to discuss preliminary plans for the hydrokinetic project is Buffalo Niagara Riverkeeper. Executive Director Julie Barrett-O'Neill said the proposals come with "a universe of unknowns."
"In a perfect world, this could be a great source of clean, sustainable power, but we're dealing with a technology that's so new, we can only guess at the impact," O'Neill said.
The Riverkeeper's initial list of questions about the submerged turbines range from concerns about impact on fish population and potential curtailment of recreational access.
O'Neill acknowledged that Hydro Green has already reached out to the environmental group, which she sees positive sign.
"They've offered to meet with us, and we want to do that. We look forward to asking a lot of questions," O'Neill said.
While FERC has issued more than 100 preliminary permits, including more than a dozen to Hydro Green, to analyze the potential of underwater turbines in several rivers around the U.S., it has yet to grant a full operating license for the new technology.
Free Flow Power, of Gloucester, Mass., also has a pending request for a preliminary permit for a project that would place nearly 900 small turbines in the upper Niagara, from the Peace Bridge to Grand Island.