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Pike Island Dam hyrdoelectric power plant permit pulled

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The City of Oberlin, Ohio, and American Municipal Power have withdrawn their application for a permit for a hydroelectric plant at the Pike Island Locs and Dam north of Wheeling, just three months after Massachusetts-based Free Flow Power withdrew its competing application.

Oberlin Electric Director Steve Dupee said they have already invested in a variety of renewable energy projects and couldn't justify another.

"We're in our sixth year of declining power sales, so at the moment we don't have a need for an additional power supply," Dupee said.

Oberlin had sponsored the preliminary permit application for AMP, its wholesale power provider. Dupee said the city has partnered with AMP on a variety of projects, including several other hydroelectric projects on the Ohio River as well as two wind projects, a solar project and three landfill gas projects, which use excess methane generated by landfill decay.

"By the time two of the hydro projects come on line and start producing in 2015, 90 percent of the power in Oberlin will be from renewables," Dupee said. "That's been key to our community, certainly since I started working here."

Dupee said it was AMP, in fact, that recommended they pull the plug on the Pike Island proposal, which would have involved a plant on the Ohio side capable of generating 256,000 megawatt-hours annually.

"At AMP's recommendation, we did that," he said. "AMP is developing a number of other projects at various dam sites on the Ohio River, Oberlin is participating in a number of them. But we will not be proceeding as it relates to the Pike Island Dam."

Free Flow Power, which originally proposed a 225,000 MWh project, had withdrawn its preliminary application Nov. 8, saying it didn't want to "interfere with the progress" of the AMP proposal.

AMP's Kent Carson said the timing just wasn't right to proceed with Pike Island, though he said the company remains committed to hydroelectric power.

"We have four projects under construction right now," he said. "It was a decision by our board, along with Oberlin, that the timing wasn't right."

Oberlin City Manager Eric Norenberg said when the city stepped up to be AMP's municipal sponsor four years ago, "we were actively engaged as a community in trying to seek additional renewable power."

"We're already involved in a number of long-term commitments, and we remain committed to those projects," Dupee said. "But we don't want to continue to add commitments if we don't have the future load requirement out there."

While the city's power portfolio relies heavily on landfill gas generation as well as hydroelectric power, Dupee said wind and solar projects add balance.

"The city has actually been going through a transition of its power portfolio. we've tried to move away from large-scale fossil fuels that had been our driver ... but we have to do it in a way that provides diversity across our total energy requirements," he said. "Because wind generates more power in winter months and not-so-much in summer, we package it with solar and landfill gas. 

"We're taking a diverse look at various types of renewable resources that in some small way can meet our around-the-clock energy requirements."

Carson, meanwhile, points out AMP's hydro plant under construction at the Willow Island Locks & Dam near St. Marys is progressing on schedule, while its plant at the Belleville Locks and Dam "is very successful; it's been a good project for us" since it came on line in 1999.

He also noted AMP currently has four plants under construction along the Ohio River.

"Obviously, we're committed to hydroelectric, both operationally now and for our plants under construction," he said. "We're still looking at a project at the Robert C. Byrd Locks and Dam, but it would be built on the Ohio side of the river. It's currently under environmental review. we're hoping to get a license issued this year."

Carson said the four projects under construction have a combined price tag of about $1.5 billion, although individual costs vary significantly.

AMP has 129 members in seven states, though not all members participate in every project.

"When we do projects, each one of those member communities makes a decision locally as to whether to participate and at what level," he said. "We arm them with information to make decisions, feasibility studies and beneficial use analyses produced by a third party."