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Hydroelectric again comes up as power source for Lehighton

Published September 27. 2011 05:01PM

A Colorado firm is interested in constructing a hydroelectric plant for Lehighton borough and then operating it.

Gravity Renewables Group of Boulder made a presentation last night to Lehighton Borough Council, stating that the borough would receive annual lease payments from the project.

No action was taken on the matter, but Council President Grant Hunsicker said the borough still possesses a hydroelectric license for Pohopoco Creek. The hydro plant, if constructed, would use water from Beltzville Lake.

Several times in the past several decades Lehighton council has discussed the possibility of building a hydro plant along Pohopoco Creek in Franklin Township as a supplemental source of electricity for the borough.

The borough purchases electricity wholesale and has its own distribution system whereby it sells electricity to residents and businesses.

Ted Rose, representing Gravity Renewable, said if his firm gets approval from the council it would generate "competitively priced electricity."

Besides paying lease payments to the borough, Rose said his firm was also giving the borough "some compensation for its past investments."

Gravity Renewables would be responsible for engineering and design review, stakeholder outreach, interconnection agreement, and lease agreements.

Adding input was Quentin Williams of MWH Americas, an engineering consulting firm based in Broomfield, Colo.

Also participating in the project would be Summit Global Management of San Diego, Calif., an investment management company.

A letter was received from Craig Engler, regional director of Summit Global Management, explaining he couldn't be present for the meeting but "I've reviewed the project studies performed by MWH and Gravity Renewables, and am supportive of the course being outlined tonight."

Engler added that his family resides in the local area, some having been born in Lehighton and the rest having grown up in Jim Thorpe. He said he is the nephew of Jean Engler, assistant district attorney in Carbon County.

Rose pointed out that if the borough was to take on a hydroelectric project itself, it would have to design, bid, finance, acquire subsidies, construct, and maintain the project.

He said under his proposal, the borough has the permit/license, would secure lease agreements, and then obtain annual lease payments. The rest of the project would be the responsibility of Gravity Renewables, MWH Americas, and Summit Global Management.

Discussion of hydroelectric as an alternative power source for Lehighton initially surfaced in the 1970s under then borough manager Mortimer Smedley.

In April 2009, the council voted unanimously to discontinue its planning phase for the project after being informed that the proposed hydro plant would not be self-sustaining until the year 2041.

The borough based its decision on a Technical Assessment Report drafted by MWH.

The report then by MWH indicated that even with a 4 percent bond interest rate, the borough would likely have losses through the year 2040. From the years 2020 to 2023, the losses would be in excess of $100,000 annually. From 2024 through 2027, those losses would be more than $200,000 annually.

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