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 Post subject: New hopes for the Mt Hope Hydro Project
PostPosted: Thu Apr 27, 2006 9:11 pm 
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Rising utility bills spur new hydropower hopes in Morris
MICHAEL DAIGLE DAILY RECORD

ROCKAWAY TWP. -- To some in Morris County, it feels like 1972 again.
That was when investors pitched the idea that some of the region's growing demand for electricity could be met by flushing thousands of gallons of water through generators perched underground in old mine shafts.

Soon, a project took shape that called for using the deep shafts of the old Mount Hope iron mine for that purpose.

The proposal spawned neighborhood protests, concerns about the fate of the nationally recognized mine structures that first produced iron ore in the early 1700s, and the local environment.

Many of the elements that were in place in 1972 exist today: growing demand for electricity, rising energy costs; concerns about the environmental and historic impact of the project, and the potential opposition of neighbors.

Officials of Mount Hope Waterpower Project LLP, which owns the site, see hope that today's higher energy costs might make this project more attractive and necessary; others see past failures to develop the project and, as a result, make good on financial commitments to the preservation of historic structures.

Still others question whether the project will satisfy enough of the new, tougher state environmental regulations to be approved at all.

When Gary Kazin of White Meadow Lake in Rockaway Township learned recently that the owners had filed for a new permit, he said he recalled past neighborhood protests that included mothers pushing their infants in baby carriages.

"It might be time to get out the baby carriages again,"Kazin said. "Some of those who were in the baby carriages might now be pushing one."

In 1972, the old General Public Utilities company, now JCP&L, and a small construction company called Halecrest Corp. bought 1,800 acres of the historic Mount Hope iron mine with the idea that the mine shafts, dropping thousands of feet underground, could be used to generate electricity.

GPUpullout

GPU pulled out in 1976, and Halecrest Corp. has been replaced by a company called the Mount Hope Waterpower Project LLP -- the latest in a line of investors attracted by the thought of a hydropower project.

Today, after 30 years, all that remains alive of the $2 billion plan is the dream, and that is hanging by the slimmest of regulatory threads -- the hope that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission will grant the owners new life in the form of a preliminary permit.

In December, FERC terminated a license that had been in place for six years because the company completed no construction in that period.

Then, in March, Mount Hope filed an application with FERC for a preliminary permit for a pumped storage hydroelectric project potentially capable of producing 2,628 gigawatt-hours of electricity a year. The power would be produced by flushing water from a 57-acre surface storage facility down a 2,800-foot shaft, through five generators, to an underground reservoir associated with the old Mount Hope iron mine.

The project would provide electricity to be used during peak hours, with the water returned to the surface overnight.

The application for a preliminary permit, if approved, would allow Mount Hope Waterpower to retain exclusive rights to develop the project, said FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller. It is the first step of many in the process to potentially regain a license for the project, she said.

The application triggers a study of the site and project plans, Miller said. The permit would be good for three years. A license could be good for 30 to 50 years, she said.

The rising cost of energy gives the investors hope.

Financial concerns

Donald H. Clark, the attorney for the project's owners, said that, throughout its history, the project has been hampered by concerns that the financial returns would not justify the costs.

"What was needed was perkier oil prices," he said. "Seventy dollars a barrel makes it really perky."

On Friday, the cost of a barrel of oil topped $75.

Ray Dotter, a spokesman for PJM, a company that operates the region's network of high-voltage power transmission lines, said the demand for electricity is growing, as is the cost of producing it.

To meet peak-hour demand for electricity, power generators are using older power plants that are expensive to operate. It is possible that a hydro project like that proposed in Mount Hope could add peak-hour power at a lower cost and with less environmental damage than the older plants fueled by coal or other fossil fuels, said Dotter.

Dotter said his company does not take positions on individual generation projects.

Because Mount Hope would generate electricity during the day by dropping water downhill through the generators, its generation costs might be lower than those of a conventional power plant. By pumping the water back to the surface reservoir at night, when electricity costs less, the company also might lower its costs, he said.

But the owner of any generation system must pay for the delivery of that power to the grid, Dotter said. That means paying for construction of transmission lines and other structures -- costs that cannot be passed along.

The fate of the project could be determined, however, by what did not exist in 1972 -- stricter environmental laws that govern water use and efforts to keep it clean, as well as the Highlands Act. The Mount Hope hydro project site is in the strict preservation area created by that law -- a section of the 859,000-acre Highlands region that is designed to have many restrictions on development.

Walter Krich, Morris County's director of planning, said being in the preservation area raises a lot of questions about the project's prospects.

"They could have a hard time with it," Krich said, adding that his department has not taken a position on the project.

Not considered

Project manager Sam Ramiz said he has not considered the impact of the Highlands Act, but instead is focusing on the FERC application. Ramiz said it is possible that the project, which calls for five generators, could be built in phases.

"It is possible to get the project approved one generator at a time," he said.

Hanging in the balance, with the loss of the license, is the preservation of historic mining structures and buildings associated with Morris County's early mining industry.

A programmatic agreement signed by FERC, Halecrest and the state Historic Preservation Office ended when the former license was terminated, FERC's Miller said.

That agreement called for a cultural resources management plan to "stabilize, adaptively reuse or otherwise preserve" historic mining structures. The Mount Hope mine and buildings such as the Richard Ford Faesch House, home to the ironmaster who developed the site, are on the national and state registers of historic places.

The company also was supposed to preserve the New Leonard Mining Complex, the last site in the county with actual mining structures; consult the state historic office on the preservation and use of the First Methodist Church; make $400,000 available for the restoration of the Ford Faesch House; and spend up to $5 million to safeguard significant historic resources, the agreement said.

The Morris County Park Commission is developing plans to preserve many of the historic mining buildings as it further creates a historic district centered around the Mount Hope mining area.

Rockaway Township Mayor Louis Sceusi said that, if the permit is allowed and the subsequent licensing process begins again, the township will work to make sure that the historic mining site is again protected. He said the project would be a benefit to the township.

Carefully monitor

U.S. Rep. Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, who in the past sponsored federal legislation in support of the Mount Hope project, said he will he carefully monitor the permit application process.

"Over the years, I've worked with the mayors and community groups concerned about this project to ensure that the historical aspects of the property were taken into consideration. It is my understanding that the pre-application process is ongoing, and I intend to review all the details of the application along with the municipalities involved," Frelinghuysen said.

"I strongly believe it is important that FERC take the historical integrity of the property into account as they review this new application."

I›Michael Daigle can be reached at (973) 267-7947 or mdaigle@gannett.com.

Hydroplant history

• The roots of the proposed Mount Hope Waterpower project date to the 1972 purchase of the former Mount Hope iron mine property by Halecrest Corp. and General Public Utilities, now known as JCP&L. GPU dropped out of the project in 1976 and sold its interest in the 1,800-acre site to Halecrest. • Halecrest reopened the mine in 1977 and closed it in 1978, and in the early 1980s sold a 530-acre rock quarry that today is operated by Tilcon Inc. • In 1985, Halecrest and two other companies filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to build a pumped storage hydroelectric facility. Halecrest's application was accepted in 1987. Also at that time, Halecrest and a company called Mount Hope Development Associates planned to build homes on 800 acres of the property, leaving 468 acres for the hydro project. That project did not materialize. • FERC licensed the project in 1992. • The rights to the project exchanged corporate owners several times since the mid-1980s and today are owned by Mount Hope Waterpower Project LLP. • In December FERC terminated the license for the project, and in March the company applied for a preliminary permit. A comment period on that application ends on May 7. -- Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Details of original proposal The original proposal for the Mount Hope hydro project called for: • A 9,000-foot long, 45-foot high earth and rock dam that would create a 57-acre reservoir in the area of Mount Hope Lake. • The use of the existing 2,500-foot mine shaft to feed water past five 333-megawatt generators to an underground reservoir. • Two parallel 500-kilovolt transmission lines over an 11-mile route that would include 104 transmission towers, each 125 feet tall. • The system was expected to produce 1,000 megawatts of electricity per hour over 10 hours, or 10,000 megawatt-hours of electricity. • The project would cause "significant adverse impacts to water quality, fish and wildlife and upland vegetation at Mount Hope Lake." • The transmissionwould create "significant adverse visual and land use impacts." -- Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, November 1989


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PostPosted: Fri Apr 28, 2006 9:41 am 
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We will have to see if anything comes out of this. This project has been goin on for a very long time, but nothing really has been done except talking about it. On the newer proposals, the existing shafts would not really be used for the transportation of water. The only use I would see of the mine would be as a water source for the reservoir. That would only be needed for the final stages of the project, unless the plan to use the Mt. Hope as a service point for the underground reservoir. But as a town pleaser, the Mt Hope facility would be perserved. and funding would be given to the Ford Faesch house and the Methodist Church.

It would be exciting if Mt Hope was pumped out as part of this project, but we will really have to see what happens with this.


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