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Collinsville Hydro
Avon - Burlington - Canton

COLLINSVILLE UPPER AND LOWER HYDRO PROJECT

The Collinsville upper and lower dams are typical retired New England mill dams. The upper dam is located in Canton on the Farmington River and the lower is located immediately downstream in Avon and Burlington, CT. Hydropower at this location actually began in the late 1700ís when a wooden dam was built near the current upper dam to power a grist mill. In the early 1800ís the Collins Company was formed and the extant upper dam and mill building were built in 1837. Several turbines in the mill building powered the manufacturing equipment. In 1934 the extant upper powerhouse was built on the west end of the dam to utilize more available flow in the river for electricity production. The lower dam and powerhouse were built in 1914 to provide additional electricity for the growing demand. In 1966 both the upper and lower dams and powerhouses were shut down, retired and donated to CT DEP.

Beginning in 1988 my company, Summit Hydro based in Avon, began the long, painstaking and costly task of obtaining licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the Collinsville dams in anticipation of putting them back on line to generate clean, renewable electricity. In the United States in order to put a hydro facility on line a FERC license or exemption must first be obtained. The amount of work invested by Summit to obtain the FERC licenses is almost incomprehensible: hundreds of hours of work, countless studies, surveys, meetings, correspondences, designs, drawings, analyses, cash flow statements. Many concerns of agencies, environmental groups, municipalities and individuals were addressed and mitigated. Summit submitted the final license applications on September 9, 1989 and, after more studies and correspondences, the licenses were finally granted on February 23, 2001; it took FERC 11 years to grant the licenses!

A standard requirement of the licenses is that construction must begin within 4 years of license issuance. Although this seems like ample time, it is known in the industry, and by FERC staff that it is too short, especially for complicated projects like the Collinsville. For example, The DEP was positive towards Summit leasing the facilities, but it took over 3 years to pass the unopposed legislation that was required to allow DEP to enter leases for the sites. Although Summit maintained unwavering diligence in obtaining property rights, final designs, contracts, financing, etc., it unfortunately took more than 4 years and FERC terminated the licenses on December 4, 2007. Summit did not respond to FERC regarding the termination nor did we appeal it because there were no good grounds to argue FERC's decision, it is cut and dry.

However, before the licenses were terminated, Summit began working with Congressman Murphyís office on the goal of introducing a bill to reinstate the licenses back to Summit and extend the construction start dates. Bills of this nature have been passed before for other licensees that also had difficulty meeting the tight 4 year time period.

Meanwhile, On February 7, 2008 I met with the Town of Canton First Selectman, Richard Barlow. He explained that the Town would like to own the projects. (I interpreted it that he wants the Town and his name showing on a bronze plaque affixed to the powerhouse). I said that is fine, itís OK if Town wants to own the project as long as I get paid fairly for my work and am involved in development. We concluded the meeting with a handshake understanding that Mr. Barlow will ask the Town Attorney and Selectmen to put a Letter of Understanding together whereby Summit gets a Bill passed in Washington which reinstates the licenses back to Summit (the Town uses its political motivation to help get it passed), then Summit transfers the licenses to the Town and Summit is compensated fairly for its work expended on the licenses.

What happened next is rather startling; Canton First Selectman Dick Barlow asked the Congressman to introduce a bill that would reinstate Summitís licenses and transfer them to Canton! The Congressmanís office and Mr. Barlow then turned their back on Summit and introduced a bill that proposed to pirate Summitís good work and give the licenses to the Town. I asked Mr. Barlow if he plans to grab Summit's licenses, disregard our understanding of 2/7/08 and disavow Summit. He said "yes". 

In 2010, bills HR 4451 and companion bill S 3532 passed the house then failed in the Senate. Then, in 2011, the bills were reintroduced as HR 1353 and S 715. These bills also failed. Then, in 2012, HR 5625 has passed the House but not the Senate. Now, Rep. Esty introduced it again, HR 316, introduced 1/18/13, and again it has passed the House but not the Senate. It's the fourth year now that this bill has been introduced. I am hopeful that there are people in the Senate that read the many letters I have sent and/or they correctly believe that this Bill is not proper.  To see bill details go to www.congress.gov then type in "Collinsville" and click the magnifying glass search icon.

In a nutshell, our governmental system has let down a local renewable energy business. However, there are more important negative aspects of this bill that I wish to point out. It is unprecedented legislation; the transfer of a FERC license to a third party without consent of the original licensee has never been done, thus it will set a negative precedent in the hydro industry which will tend to deter future hydro development. In addition, this bill will also circumvent due process. After going through the proper steps, FERC granted the licenses to Summit, not Canton. Canton has not gone through the proper steps.

In my opinion this proposed legislation is improper and borderline unethical. If the Town is interested in developing and owning the projects then it would seem that the first step would be to sit down and discuss it with the local company that has vast experience and a wealth of knowledge on the projects, Summit Hydro, rather than taking the current offensive approach.
Unfortunately the hostile approach has put a wall up between the Town and Summit.

Developing small hydro projects successfully is extremely difficult, time consuming and risky. At current rates these projects are projected to be economically difficult. There is no guarantee that these projects will be feasible. The true economic feasibility will not be known until just before the shovel is put in the ground.
It is easy to see the economic difficulty of these projects when examining the development and operating costs as compared to the income of these relatively small, approximate 1MW, projects.  Therefore they should not be viewed as a source of profit. Incentives from public funds will probably be necessary to make these projects feasible. However, I believe that, regardless of who develops the sites, there is a limit at which public funds should not be granted if the cost per kWh is too high. Canton has already spent well over $70,000 of taxpayer money with no explicit payback. I believe that renewables should be encouraged, but not at any cost.

This raises the question; why is a town spending its precious resources on the monumental task of developing a hydroelectric project? Why should taxpayers be put at risk? Other municipalities have failed at hydro including Woonsocket, RI and Reading, PA. In my opinion Towns should stay out of the difficult hydropower business and leave it to the private sector. Towns should stick to their primary responsibilities including education, planning, zoning, waste water treatment, parks, recreation, library, roads, senior citizens, etc.

Another point worth noting is that the Collinsville lower project is not located in Canton. It is located in Avon and Burlington. This raises the question why is the Town of Canton seeking the license for the lower project which is not located in Canton?

For further details as to why the proposed legislation should not go forward, please click here: ďLetter to BlumenthalĒ.

In my opinion this legislation is improper and should be either dropped or amended to reinstate the licenses back to Summit.

More recently, on March 20, 2014, the Town of Canton distributed a Request for Proposals to develop the project. The RFP states that the developer is responsible for all permits and costs associated with the project. This lends me to ask; What is the Town contributing for the project? It looks to me like the Town really doesn't have much. I would think that anyone wanting to develop the project would simply begin the process now of filing a FERC license and omit the burden of dealing with the Town. 

In summary, our current stand on the project is that Summit:

1.    Is local to the site and has a wealth of experience and work done on the project,

2.    Would like to see the project proceed if it can be done without burdening taxpayers,

3.    Is not interested in developing the project by itself,

4.    Is currently not wanting to enter an agreement with the Town due to; a) the negative approach by the Town regarding abovementioned bill, and b) do not see much value in what the Town can contribute to project development, and

5.    Is willing to help other private entities develop the project.

Photos of the Collinsville Site
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Summit Hydro owner Duncan Broatch surveying cross sections in river for Collinsville Lower Fish Transportability Study, February 28, 1991.
 
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Collinsville Upper Dam

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Collinsville Upper Power House

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Collinsville Upper Forebay and Trash Racks

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Collinsville Upper Interior of Power House

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Collinsville Lower Power House

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Collinsville Lower Dam

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Collinsville Lower Trash racks
 

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Collinsville Lower Power House Interior

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