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Boston company considers hydropower for Pittsburgh area dams

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Saturday, Nov. 3, 2012, 8:14 p.m.

A Boston energy company has applied to federal regulators to install hydropower on four dams in the Pittsburgh area.

Prompted by tax incentives for renewable energy, Free Flow Power is one of several companies interested in installing power on the dams.

The company is proposing to install hydropower at the Allegheny River Lock and Dam #2 in Harmarville, the Emsworth Locks & Dam, The Emsworth Back Channel Dam and the Montgomery Locks & Dam in Aliquippa.

“If a dam is already there, installing hydropower means making the most of a resource,” said Alan Topalian, Free Flow's regulatory lawyer.

In August, the company filed a pre-application document with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which licenses hydropower companies. On Nov. 15, Free Flow will hold a public hearing at the Holiday Inn Express on Campbells Run Road, Moon.

“This is very early in the process. We have submitted preliminary engineering designs. There are hundreds of variables to consider and still a lot of unknowns,” Topalian said.

The proposed projects would generate about 100 megawatts of power, he said.

Two years ago, Brookfield Renewable Power Inc. of Marlborough, Mass., scrapped plans for 14 hydropower projects in this region. The company said its plans were not financially feasible.

There are now eight hydropower projects among the 23 locks and dams and 16 reservoirs,which are operated by the Pittsburgh District of the Army Corps of Engineers.

Locks 5, 6, 8 and 9 along the Allegheny River — all between Freeport and East Brady — have privately operated hydropower capacity.

Installation of hydropower on some dams could be problematic, said Jeff Hawk, a spokesman for the corps.

“We look at whether hydropower will compromise a structure, compromise our mission or harm the environment,” he said.

The Montgomery dam, for example, is in poor shape. “Of the 10 gates there, only two are reliable,” Hawk said.

Many dams in Pittsburgh were built during the 1930s, like the Montgomery dam, which opened in 1936. The Elizabeth Locks & Dam opened in 1907.

Interest in hydropower has grown partly as a result of the federal Renewable Electricity Production Tax Credit. It is a per-kilowatt-hour credit for electricity generated by qualified energy resources, such as wind and hydropower, said Matthew Nocella, a spokesman for the National Hydropower Association in Washington.

“We think hydropower is an underused and clean way of generating energy,” Nocella said.

Only 3 percent of 80,000 dams in the United States have hydropower capacity, according to the association.

Rick Wills is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7944 or at

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