Hydroelectric plant sought at Pike Island

YORKVILLE — Citing Appalachia’s need to compensate for losing thousands of megawatts worth of coal-fired power during the last few years, a developer hopes to build a $200 million hydroelectric plant at the Pike Island Locks and Dam in the Ohio River.

“What we are seeing is that existing utilities are shutting down coal-fired power plants. Something has to fill the void,” said Alan Skelly, who serves as CEO of Pike Island Energy.

Skelly’s firm is seeking Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval to build a 48-megawatt plant, which he said would generate enough electricity for about 22,000 homes. He said a public hearing on the project will be held in the Upper Ohio Valley before the end of summer, but is still waiting to confirm a specific time, date and location.

“We have filed the pre-application with FERC. It generally takes about two years from filing to get approval,” Skelly said.

In 2014, American Municipal Power considered building a hydroelectric power plant at the Pike Island Locks and Dam, but eventually dropped the project. However, that company opened generating units at the Willow Island Lock and Dam in Pleasants County, W.Va. last year.

The New Martinsville/Hannibal Hydroelectric Plant, also an American Municipal Power project, has been in place since 1988.

In place since 1963, the Pike Island Locks and Dam spans the Ohio River between the Buckeye State and the Mountain State. Its West Virginia terminal is just north of the Warwood section of Wheeling, while the Ohio side reaches Yorkville.

Skelly said the proposed six-turbine plant at Pike Island would be located on the portion of the dam closest to Ohio to allow river vessels to pass through the locks portion of the facility.

In recent years, electricity producers such as FirstEnergy Corp. and American Electric Power have curtailed coal-fired generation. Companies cited environmental regulations under former President Barack Obama’s administration, such as the Clean Power Plan and the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, in their decisions.

In June 2015 alone, AEP shut down 5,535 megawatts of coal-fired power across Appalachia, including the former Kammer Plant in Marshall County. According to PJM Interconnection, which operates the power grid serving West Virginia and Ohio, one megawatt can power as many as 1,000 homes.

Even though President Donald Trump issued an executive order overturning the Clean Power Plan, the two electricity powerhouses show no signs of reinvigorating closed coal plants.

“The move is still toward renewables. This project is 100-percent renewable,” he said. “You have river water flowing through the turbines. It is a natural flow.”

In fact, data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration show hydroelectric generation continuing to grow, as generators across the nation increased wattage output by 12.9 percent from May 2016 to May 2017.

Skelly said his project would ultimately employ 10-15 full-time workers at “utility-level salaries.”

“The site is part of a really nice recreational area. Fishermen enjoy it. When we replace that, we will replace it with something nice,” Skelly said of the Yorkville side of the dam. “We will be seeking input from the locals.”

One of those fishermen is Washington, Pa. resident Blayr Brown. He said he regularly catches catfish, walleye and crappie in the river at Yorkville.

“I hope they don’t get rid of the fishing here,” Brown said. “That would be really unfortunate.”

Skelly said he hopes to address this matter in a way that can satisfy all parties because demands for electricity will continue to increase.

“We feel it is very viable,” Skelly added of the hydroelectric plant.

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