Hydro permits sought: Company wants to put plant on river

Published 12:03 am Thursday, October 25, 2012

NATCHEZ — A company interested in turning a portion of the Mississippi River into an underwater power station is pursuing the necessary permits to do so.

Free Flow Power, a Boston-based company, has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of a hydropower project near the area of Concordia Parish known as Fairview.

The application is essentially for the extension of previous permits the company has been granted, said Daniel Lissner with Free Flow Power, and would not allow the company to do any land disturbing activities.

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The company has been in the process of studying the site, which it calls the St. Catherine Bend hydrokinetic project, for some time, and the feasibility study would determine if up to 6,382 underwater power-generating turbines could be installed on the bottom of the river. The study will also consider the feasibility of the necessary infrastructure — such as transmission lines — for such a project. It’s part of a wider initiative in which the company is investigating.

If the project moves forward, the turbines would most likely be configured on pilings mounted on the river bottom below the navigable river channel, Lissner said.

“We have also investigated the deployment of turbines suspended from barges, but have moved away from that conceptual alternative in favor of a piling-based approach to avoid impacts with navigation that would occur on the surface of the water,” he said.

The Mississippi River serves as an ideal hydrokinetic resource because of its size, flow and the maintenance protocols that keep it in its existing channels, and Lissner said the St. Catherine-Fairview bend is a site of study because riverbends are particularly optimal locations for turbines.

“The water accelerates around the bends, and bends tend to be deeper, so that makes for a location that you could conceivably sit more turbines mounted below the navigable channel than you could in other locations,” he said.

Lissner said that the application the company has filed is for a three-year permit, and if it is granted, the company anticipates filing for a license with the FERC for the location.

“We are continually in the process of evaluating constraints at each site, as well as considerations that would affect all of the projects, including environmental restrictions, the cost of energy and the availability of customers for the power,” he said.

“At this time, we are still very much in the study and evaluation period.”