Tilting at windmills? Old coal mines could play a role in renewable energy

SHENANDOAH, Pa. – The Shen Penn anthracite mine pit, abandoned in the 1960s during the decline of Schuylkill County’s coal industry, is a 230-foot-deep water hole surrounded by mine waste, scrub trees, and a nearly 600-foot rock wall that imperils adventurers who creep too close to the edge of the precipice.

Adam Rousselle, a Bucks County entrepreneur, imagines that one day this 40-acre public nuisance will once again deliver energy – not by producing coal, but as a massive energy-storage device to hold renewable power generated from nearby wind farms.

Rousselle’s company, Merchant Hydro Developers LLC, last month received a preliminary federal permit to study converting the Shen Penn pit into a pumped-storage hydroelectric project. In pumped-storage systems, power is generated by releasing water from an upper reservoir when electricity is needed most. At night, when excess power is available, the units are reversed and water is pumped uphill to refill the upper reservoir.

“It’s like a giant liquid battery,” said Rousselle, 51, an executive in electric-transmission ventures who lives near Doylestown.

The Shenandoah proposal is the largest of 21 pumped-storage projects for which Merchant Hydro has filed applications with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Most are in Pennsylvania, and many are situated on old strip mines or near wind farms.

One of them would be located in Bucks County, in Nockamixon Township — and not on an old mine, but on public lands owned by the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

“We’re only going to do these if they are economically viable, environmentally viable, and socially viable,” Rousselle said.

Pumped storage is not a new concept. The U.S. Department of Energy counts 42 existing pumped-storage plants, most built decades ago, that can deliver 21,600 megawatts of power, about one-fifth of the nation’s hydroelectric capacity. Exelon Generation of Kennett Square operates one site, the 1,070-MW Muddy Run Pumped Storage Facility, which opened in 1966 along the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County.

Original Author Andrew Maykuth and posted in The Inquirer Daily News http://www.philly.com/philly/business/energy/tilting-at-windmills-old-coal-mines-could-play-a-role-in-renewable-energy-20170616.html

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