Schuylkill County, Pa., Considers Hydropower Plant

A Doylestown company has filed a preliminary permit application with the U.S. Department of Energy for the development of a pumped-storage hydroelectric project near Shenandoah in East Union Township.

Merchant Hydro Developers LLC filed an application for the permit with DOE’s Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Dec. 19, 2016, for what is identified as the Rattlin Run Pumped Storage Hydro Project in the application.

FERC is an independent agency that regulates the interstate transmission of electricity, natural gas, and oil. FERC also reviews proposals to build liquefied natural gas terminals and interstate natural gas pipelines as well as licensing hydropower projects.

According to the DOE Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy website, pumped-storage hydropower is a type of hydropower that works like a battery, pumping water from a lower reservoir to an upper reservoir for storage and later generation. It is an important piece of DOE’s renewable energy portfolio because it acts as a utility-scale grid storage technology. DOE’s Water Power Program plays a supportive role in demonstrating the benefits of PSH and its role in our nation’s clean energy portfolio. As a renewable form of energy storage, PSH facilitates grid stabilization, allowing a high penetration of variable renewables such as wind and solar into existing electrical grids.

At the current time, the project is in the study stage. The 16-page application for the preliminary permit from FERC explains that, based on current conceptual design, the Rattlin Run project involves the construction of a closed-loop, pumped-storage hydroelectric generating facility capable of producing approximately 297 megawatts of electricity.

The basic configuration would include:

  • As many as two pumping/generating units contained in a powerhouse.
  • A newly constructed lower reservoir of approximately 131 acres.
  • As many as two upper reservoirs — one approximately 112-acre upper reservoir created through construction of a semi-circular dam and/or dike retaining 550 million gallons of water, and potentially a second approximately 168-acre upper reservoir created through construction of a semi-circular dam and/or dike retaining 820 million gallons of water. Combined, these reservoirs will contain approximately 4,200 acre-feet of water.
  • One 48-inch penstock (an enclosed pipe that delivers water to hydro turbines) approximately 3,387 feet long and a reservoir tie Penstock of approximately 900 feet.
  • The project will have an approximate net head of approximately 621 feet.

The application states that Merchant Hydro proposes to create as many as two upper reservoirs, as well as a lower reservoir that will be filled from local inflow including groundwater inputs and operated at a surface elevation of 1,060 and 1,099 feet above sea level. Preliminary estimates indicate the lower reservoir capacity could approach 5,040 acre-feet.

The upper reservoir would potentially be constructed using dam roller compacted concrete or earth and rock excavated from mine site reclamation. Preliminary designs estimate the upper reservoir to have a total surface area of approximately 280 acres and hold approximately 1.4 billion gallons of water at a pool discharge elevation of 1,760 feet ASL.

A new 150-foot-long, 50-foot-wide powerhouse containing two turbine-generator units with a total rated capacity of 300 megawatts, and a new transmission line connecting the powerhouse to a nearby electric grid interconnection point with options to evaluate multiple grid interconnection locations.

Possible initial fill water and makeup water would come from Catawissa Creek.

PPL Electric Utilities Inc. owns two transmission lines and two substations nearby the project boundary.

The average annual generation from this project would be approximately 867,187 megawatt hours. The cost of the studies vary from $150,000 to $400,000.

A preliminary permit does not authorize the permit holder to perform any land-disturbing activities or enter land or water owned by others without the owners’ expressed permission.

The application also explains the benefits to the public interest. The proposed Rattlin Creek Pumped Storage Hydro Project will be achieved by installing a new hydroelectric generator that will utilize modern, state-of-the-art technology to optimize the clean, renewable electricity generating potential of site in a manner that best develops, conserves and utilizes this resource for beneficial public use. The proposed project will fulfill the public interest for a less expensive, more reliable and environmentally sound source of renewable energy while creating energy jobs in an economically-depressed area who has lost energy related jobs in the transition away from coal.

Also, the hydraulic capacity of the Rattlin Run project will develop, conserve, protect and utilize in the public interest the public water resources of the region without damage to the environment, according to the application. Development of the proposed project will reduce the acid rain and greenhouse effects associated with coal- and oil-fueled power plants that currently supply a significant portion of the energy needs of Pennsylvania. The benefits of the proposed project are directly in keeping with Pennsylvania’s 2014 Energy Plan to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, create jobs and maximize the state’s natural resources by creating renewable energy resources.