An effort to generate hydropower again at the Coon Rapids Dam is under way.
When the dam was built in the 1913, its purpose was to produce electricity and that continued until the 1960s when it became economically unfeasible and the dam and surrounding property on both sides of the Mississippi River became a regional park with the dam as a focal point.
Now BOST 1 Hydroelectric LLC, a wholly-own subsidiary of Golden Valley-based Nelson Energy LLC, is preparing to file a license application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to develop a project that would produce 12 MW (megawatts) of hydropower capacity at the dam.
But it is a long drawn-out process.
According to Robert P. Larson, Nelson Energy manager, BOST 1 Hydroelectric received preliminary permit approval from the FERC in October 2010 to study the feasibility of a proposed Coon Rapids Dam hydroelectric project.
That put in motion a three-year process to develop preliminary engineering, transmission, environmental and other required information for the project, Larson said.
However, the project was put on hold while the future of the Coon Rapids Dam was being debated because of the repairs that were needed to fix structural deficiencies, he said.
In 2011, the Minnesota Legislature approved $16 million in state bonding to repair and renovate the dam, a project that is now in the design and engineering stage and is scheduled to start construction in 2013.
As part of the dam reconstruction project, the six-mile pool above the dam would remain at its higher summer level permanently.
That is important in making hydropower viable at the dam, according to Larson.
Once the application for the hydropower license is submitted, FERC has two years to make a decision on whether to approve it or not.
But Larson said that before any license application is sent to FERC, either the Anoka County Board or the Three Rivers Park District or both would have to sign off on the project.
Anoka County operates the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the Anoka County side of the dam, while Three Rivers Park District not only owns and maintains the dam, it also operates the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park on the Hennepin County side of the river.
The company hosted a public meeting on its proposal July 12, primarily for agencies affected by the process, at the Earle Brown Heritage Center in Brooklyn Center.
This initial consultation meeting was an opportunity to present the plan, listen to any concerns that were raised and discuss any additional information that would be required for the license application, Larson said.
This meeting was the next step in the preparation of a license application to obtain a license to construct and operate the project, he said.
Under FERC regulations, written comments are due from agencies or the public within 60 days of the July 12 meeting – on or before Sept. 10.
Earlier this year, the company met with Anoka County Board members at a board work session to explain the project and a meeting with the Three Rivers Park District took place this month, he said.
“If FERC issues us a license, then we have four years to get it constructed,” Larson said.
“It is a very lengthy process. Any hydropower project at the dam is a long way out.”
As part of any hydropower project at the dam, a power plant would have to be built with two turbines and a sluice/waterway, he said.
No decision has yet been made on which side of the river the power plant would be constructed, he said.
According to Larson, there are plenty of potential customers nearby for hydropower at the dam.
Utility companies would be interested because hydropower is very reliable and predictable, Larson said.
A project generating 10 MW would produce enough electricity for 20,000 residences; what BOST 1 is proposing in capacity, 12 MW, would produce more electricity than that, he said.
A copy of the pre-application document for the proposed project can be obtained by written request to Nelson Energy LLC, 8441 Wayzata Blvd., Suite 101, Golden Valley, MN 55426.
According to its website, Nelson Energy is a privately-held company specializing in the development of hydroelectric potential at existing dams. Larson and Douglas A. Spaulding manage the company.
In 2001, the company developed the 9 MW Lower St. Anthony Falls project in downtown Minneapolis and since 2001, Nelson Energy has developed and licensed over $250 million worth of hydroelectric projects in the Midwest and has an additional 92 MW of hydro potential under development at existing dams in Louisiana, the website states.
The Coon Rapids Dam was built in 1913 by Northern States Power (NSP) Co. to generate hydroelectric power.
When power generation stopped in the 1960s, NSP donated the dam and surrounding land on both sides of the river to what is now the Three River Park District to develop as a regional park.
Anoka County now owns all the regional park property on this side of the river.
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]