POWNAL — A Vermont firm that hopes to install small-scale, low-impact hydropower units in the state has begun approaching town officials and private property owners to discuss potential sites.
Chris Willett and Roman Nemet of RiverRoar Energy met Aug. 11 with the Pownal Select Board to explain the process and inquire about permission to perform water flow or other testing on town land, if suitable, and on private sites.
The two men met in the Brattleboro area and decided to form their company, with Nemet providing the technical expertise and Willett the business experience, Willett told board members.
“Roman had a great idea,” Willett said, to help meet the need for additional renewable energy.
“Wind is great, but water is better,” he said, “because we always have water here, even in a drought. Plenty of flow here in Vermont; water is running all year round.”
The team said they located a Belgium micro-hydropower technology company — Turbulent — to partner with RiverRoar Energy to provide systems here.
Willett said RiverRoar is now reviewing potential sites in Vermont, based on existing water flow data, for further testing.
“Right now, we’re either going to private homeowners or municipalities that own a piece of land and would allow us access to a waterway,” Willett said.
That’s one of the first steps that could lead to an application for state and federal permits, he said, including from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
The licensing process requires “a mountain of paperwork,” he said, adding that the company has contacted the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and its Small Hydro Assistance Program to help identify feasible or suitable sites.
“That is kind of where we’re at,” he said.
The company also has discussed with landowners sites in Rutland and Brattleboro, they said.
In Pownal, the most likely municipally owned sites would be along the Hoosic River in North Pownal, they said, where the town owns the wastewater treatment plant site and mostly wooded land at the base of the Taconic Range once owned by the former Pownal Tanning Co.
No permission was sought for specific town-owned sites, and board Chairman Michael Gardner said the board would review the process further when and if that happens.
He added that he now has “multiple, multiple questions” about the proposal and would like to see more data and information before considering a plan that involves the town.
As for private property owners who want to discuss a hydro unit, board members said they saw no reason the town would become involved at this point.
An advantage of a site-specific micro-hydro unit, Nemet said, is that no dam is required as it is with a traditional hydropower system, and the unit can be underwater.
In addition, he said, a micro system needs a smaller elevation difference to produce adequate flow force between water intake and power generator.
The micro systems can be hooked up to power a home or business, or go directly into the power grid or for battery storage, he said. The micro plants can be constructed to have a generating capacity as small as 15 kilowatts of power, but others range into hundreds of kilowatts of generating capacity.
The owners added that advantages for these projects include requiring a low initial investment, minimal ongoing maintenance and no large electric distribution infrastructure.
No town-owned sites have yet been identified at this point, the business owners said, but some privately owned Pownal sites are being considered.