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Hydro Green Energy wants to build hydroelectric plant on Monongahela River

| Saturday, July 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

A Dallas startup could become the first company to operate a hydroelectric power plant in Allegheny County.

Hydro Green Energy wants to build a 5.2-megawatt, low-impact hydroelectric plant at the Braddock Locks and Dam on the Monongahela River.

Adding power to existing dams is quicker, cheaper and less risky than building dams, said the Department of Energy, which is promoting the development of low-impact hydropower at dams.

That's the approach Hydro Green Energy and other companies plan to take.

If the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approves Hydro Green's planned $15 million Braddock project, it would produce enough power for about 5,250 homes and be the company's first commercial use of its technology, said Mike Maley, president and CEO.

“We're barely going to be visible, and we're going to have virtually no environmental impact. That's why we're very comfortable with our technology,” he said.

A Boston company, Free Flow Power, is seeking approval to build 10 low-impact hydroelectric power stations — including at Allegheny Lock and Dam No. 2 and at Emsworth Locks and Dam — on the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers.

Hydro Green is awaiting final licenses for other projects, similar to its Braddock proposal, on the Allegheny River near Oakmont and on the Monongahela River near Morgantown, W.Va. The Braddock project is further along in the approval process, Maley said.

Hydro Green has 15 projects planned across the country.

Hydropower is the nation's largest renewable energy source for electricity generation, but it accounted for only about 6 percent of total generation in 2013, according to the federal Energy Information Administration.

About 2,500 dams provide 78 gigawatts of conventional hydropower in the United States, but there are more than 80,000 dams that do not produce electricity, according to a 2012 report from the Department of Energy.

The Army Corps of Engineers owns the Braddock Locks and Dam. Hydro Green started its application process in 2011, and hopes to obtain its license in time to start construction in the first quarter of 2015, Maley said.

“They put you through your paces,” he said. “They make sure that everything meets every standard possible.”

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff issued an environmental assessment for the project on June 13 but hasn't set a timeframe for issuing the license, spokesman Craig Cano said.

Building hydropower plants in Pennsylvania is a smart approach, said Jay Apt, director of the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center.

“This is a more company-friendly environment, because the wholesale prices for electricity are higher in our region than they are in most of the areas where the Mississippi River flows,” Apt said.

The Pennsylvania Environmental Council supports hydropower projects that use existing infrastructure, such as the Army Corps' locks and dams, and projects that will not be used temporarily, said Lindsay Baxter, a program manager in the council's Southwestern District office in the Strip District.

“We have the topography and the water resources in Pennsylvania to support a lot of low-impact hydro,” Baxter said.

Tory N. Parrish is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-380-5662 or tparrish@tribweb.com.

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