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Valley News Dispatch

Feds issue license for proposed hydroelectric plant for Highland Park Dam at Aspinwall

Tawnya Panizzi
| Wednesday, April 12, 2017, 2:36 p.m.
Allegheny River Lock and Dam No. 2 is located in Pittsburgh, across from Sharpsburg, Aspinwall and Etna. It's just downstream from the Highland Park Bridge.
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers
Allegheny River Lock and Dam No. 2 is located in Pittsburgh, across from Sharpsburg, Aspinwall and Etna. It's just downstream from the Highland Park Bridge.

Hydroelectric power could be fueling the homes and businesses being developed in the Riverfront 47 project along the Allegheny River in Aspinwall and Sharpsburg by 2020.

Rye Development recently announced it has received a hydropower license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and expects to start construction of the 17-megawatt plant next year.

The $60 million plant will be built at the Army Corps of Engineers' Highland Park Dam that stretches across the river from Aspinwall to Pittsburgh's Highland Park neighborhood.

“Receipt of the FERC License is a key milestone in the project development, capping six years of effort,” said Paul Jacob, communications coordinator for the Boston-based Rye Development. “Our current timeline is 2019 or 2020.”

Jacob said some 150 to 200 jobs will be created during the plant's two-year construction.

Rye and R47's developers, the Mosites Co., are working together to develop the project so the plant goes beyond its functional task of generating electricity.

“It's a neat opportunity for Rye to show how we can integrate into a community,” Jacob said. “Aesthetically, design can reflect that it's not just a power producer. That's unique among our projects.”

R47's plan is to turn 47 acres of former industrial property on about 1.5 miles of shoreline into homes, shops and light manufacturing businesses.

One example of how the plant might fit with R47 would be to incorporate it into parks within the development.

“It could be a park-like exploration of how power is generated,” said Mosites' real estate director Mark Minnerly. “It's great to have Rye building it while we are developing our master plan.

“We can help Rye make the power plant a natural part of what we are developing. It's a creative partnership.”

Rye has seven other projects on the Allegheny, Ohio and Monongahela rivers that are about at the same stage of development as its Aspinwall plant, but none involve working to develop a local power grid integrated into a commercial venture like R47.

The reliable, renewable energy source goes beyond fitting Mosites' vision of making R47 an environmentally friendly development, Minnerly said.

“Renewable energy could attract companies that might not otherwise see the site as valuable,” he said.

The plant will generate enough energy for 8,500 homes, but plans for distribution — whether it is all sold locally — have not been determined.

“What we're working on now is ... trying to figure out where usage will be and how to make the best use of the energy,” Jacobs said.

The plant — while being seven stories tall — will have a “minimal footprint” as most of it will be underground and in the water.

Jacobs said the top of the plant would be about 10 feet higher than the high side of the dam. As part of its licensing agreement, the company will have to develop recreational opportunities for residents.

“We're working on exactly what that will look like, but a fishing access is one of the biggest things,” Jacobs said.

Tawnya Panizzi is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 412-782-2121, ext. 2, or at tpanizzi@tribweb.com.

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