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Lehighton hydro project being considered again

Published January 25. 2012 05:02PM

The on-again, off-again, on-again, off-again hydroelectric concept at Beltzville Lake by Lehighton borough appears to have some life again.

Ted Rose, managing partner of Gravity Renewables, Boulder, Colo., told Lehighton Borough Council this week that his firm continues to be interested in a partnership with Lehighton for developing a hydroelectric project at the Carbon County site.

Gravity Renewables had approached the council several months ago and was given the green light to proceed with exploring the potential for such a project, although the council did not formally commit itself to the concept.

Rose told the council this week, "Since visiting in the fall, we have worked to see if we can work together on a hydroelectric project."

"It looks potential," he said, without going into detail. "We're still interested."

He added, "I'm encouraged."

Rose said he will be visiting Harrisburg to explore the possibilities of state funding for such a project.

The concept of using Beltzville Lake for producing hydroelectric power has been a topic of debate by Lehighton officials for decades. It was first raised in 1980 by then Lehighton Borough Manager Mortimer L. Smedley, who at the brink of the '70s gas crisis envisioned the town having an electric generation facility. Besides Beltzville Lake, consideration also was given at the time to using water from the Lehigh River for such a project.

The borough received a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to proceed with the Beltzville project, but finances and the end to the gas crisis prevented the project from ever becoming reality.

In 1991, the council agreed to sell its hydro license to Williams and Broome Inc. of Reading, for the fee of $1. The stipulation was that if the firm can develop hydroelectric power at Beltzville Lake with the use of the license, it would pay Lehighton $5,000 for 20 years, or $100,000 total.

Williams and Broome was never able to capitalize on the license, and the formal transfer of the license never occurred.

A feasibility study done by MWH, a global engineering firm with an office in Malvern, that specializes in environmental projects, was done for Lehighton borough in 2009 on a hydroelectric plant at Beltzville and determined that such a project would be a poor investment, resulting in financial losses of up to $200,000 annually.

Again the borough agreed to drop the hydroelectric concept.

Then came Gravity Renewables, which has expressed interest in entering a partnership with the borough on a hydro project.

Last September, Gravity Renewables made a presentation to borough council, stating that the borough would receive annual lease payments from the project if the Colorado firm could make it a reality.

No formal action was taken on the matter, but Council President Grant Hunsicker said the borough still possesses a hydroelectric license for Pohopoco Creek.

Gravity Renewables was advised it should present more information to the borough before the council commits itself to such a venture.

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