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Energy storage project eyed for old Adirondack mine

Saturday, December 28, 2013
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— An Albany firm that operates several hydroelectric dams in the Capital Region is moving closer to building an underground pumped storage project thousands of feet inside an old Adirondack iron mine.

The Mineville Pumped Storage Project proposed by Albany Engineering is under licensing review by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission but has the support of local officials in the Essex County town of Moriah.

“It looks very promising. It’s a great re-use for the mine, and it’s great for the community,” said Moriah town Supervisor Thomas Scozzafava.

Potentially, the $250 million project — which was first proposed 15 years ago — could become the first privately owned pumped storage project in New York state, said James Besha, president of Albany Engineering Corp., which is developing the project through a subsidiary.

In October, Albany Engineering filed a draft license application with the FERC. A final application will be filed in January, and Besha hopes for a decision by the end of 2014.

If the plan goes forward, it would create 100 construction jobs during a 30-month construction period as well as eight to 10 permanent jobs.

“Eight to 10 jobs in this community is a godsend,” said Scozzafava, noting the difficulties of making a living in the Adirondacks.

The project would use the abandoned iron mines thousands of feet below the hamlet of Mineville. It would pump water from the flooded deepest levels of the mine uphill through new shafts to an upper storage reservoir when electricity demand is low and release the water downhill through turbines at times of higher demand. The project owner makes money from the higher price paid for power at times of peak demand.

“It’s really like a big energy-storage battery,” Besha said. “What it’s used for is essentially to store energy. Energy is very difficult to store.”

The need for facilities like pumped storage is growing, Besha argued, because alternative energy sources like wind and solar systems generate electricity only under certain conditions, creating a need for storage systems that can hold that power until it is needed.

The pumped storage concept isn’t new. The state power authority has operated a giant pumped storage facility in southern Schoharie County for decades and has a similar project in Niagara County.

The proposed Mineville project, which would produce as much as 260 megawatts of electricity during periods of peak demand, would be roughly a quarter the size of the Blenheim-Gilboa Pumped Storage Power Project, which can produce as much as 1,000 megawatts.

The Mineville project would be what FERC officials call a “closed loop” system, unconnected to any outside water supply. It would continuously recycle water already accumulated in the lowest levels of the mine, more than 4,000 feet deep. The powerhouse would also be underground.

Albany Engineering specializes in hydroelectric projects and operates dams in Mechanicville, Green Island, Watervliet and Greenwich. It is developing proposals for Erie Canal locks and for Cohoes Falls. This would be the company’s first pumped storage effort.

The iron mines were at the heart of Moriah’s economy for more than a century but have been closed since 1971. The land is now owned by the town, which will either sell or lease it to the pumped storage project’s backers.

Moriah, which has about 5,000 residents, is on the western shore of Lake Champlain. It has struggled to find a new economic life since Republic Steel stopped mining four decades ago. The town includes the village of Port Henry, but Scozzafava said many residents work in Ticonderoga or commute to Vermont.

Scozzafava said the pumped storage project would more than double the town’s tax base.

The town has also been promised that a new 12,000-square-foot building that would be built to house construction equipment would be given to the town afterward to serve as a new highway garage.

“We are in dire need of a new highway garage,” Scozzafava said.

The current town highway garage is next to the proposed site for the pumped storage project.

The idea of a pumped storage project in the Mineville mines goes back to the 1990s. Albany Engineering filed the first documents with the FERC in 2005.

“It needs a federal license, which is a multi-, multi-year process,” Besha said. “It’s very time-consuming.”

 
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