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Part of Niagara Power Project to get $460 million upgrade; Renovations will increase capacity when demand for electricity is highest

A key portion of the Niagara Power Project will be getting a $460 million face-lift.

The New York Power Authority on Tuesday approved a program to renovate and modernize the Lewiston Pump Generating Plant over the next 10 years.

The project will improve the efficiency of the pump station and will result in a modest increase in the overall generating capacity of the Niagara Power Project at times when the demand for electricity is highest, Power Authority officials said.

The project will replace or rehabilitate aging generation equipment that dates back to the pump station's opening almost 50 years ago. It is the second major overhaul project that the Power Authority has undertaken at the Niagara Power Project, following a 15-year, $298 million program, completed in 2006, to upgrade the turbines and other components at the 13 generating units at the Robert Moses plant.

Richard M. Kessel, the Power Authority's president and chief executive officer, said the upgrade project at the Lewiston pump station will extend the life of the facility, which opened in 1961, and improve the Niagara Power Project's ability to generate low-cost hydropower.

The Lewiston station, using surplus power from the Robert Moses plant, pumps water during periods of low electricity demand, primarily at night and on weekends, into a 22 billion gallon reservoir located above the Niagara Power project.

That allows the Power Authority to store the water until a time when the demand for electricity is higher, mainly during daylight hours on weekdays. Having more water available allows the Power Authority to increase the flow through the nearby Niagara Power Project at peak times, enabling it to generate more electricity.

When that happens, the Lewiston station's pumps are reversed, turning them into generating units. The water flows from the reservoir, which is 70 to 120 feet in elevation above the power project's main generating station, through the Lewiston plant's smaller-scale generating units, and then through the main power plant before being released into the Niagara River.

The process allows the same water to be used to generate electricity twice.

The Power Authority, meeting in Buffalo, approved a plan that would replace each of the Lewiston station's 12 pump turbines with modern designs that are more efficient and will be able to pump more water.

That should allow the Niagara Power Project to modestly increase the amount of electricity it can generate during times when demand is highest, although authority officials said they could not estimate by how much until the final design and engineering work is completed.

Work on the upgrade project is expected to begin in the winter of 2012 and would continue through the winter of 2020. Each of the plant's 12 pump turbine runners, weighing about 75 tons apiece, will be upgraded one at a time, with work on each unit taking about eight or nine months to complete. The turbine runners, which are the rotating part of the turbine generator equipment, transfer energy from the water flow to the generators.

The Power Authority awarded a 10-year contract worth $174 million to Hitachi Power Systems America to make and install the 12 pump turbine runners, but only authorized the contractor to proceed with the first six units, valued at $76 million. Work on the remaining six units would be authorized by the Power Authority at a later time.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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