Montco pursuing $30M hydropower station that could power equivalent of 3,000 homes

Montgomery County is pursuing a hydropower station at the Norristown Dam that could generate enough electricity to power the equivalent of roughly 3,000 homes.

County officials applied to the federal government in April for permission to install four turbines that would produce about 7,300 megawatt hours annually.

On Thursday, June 6, the County shared the following mile markers on the road to the proposed facility:

  • Montgomery County took ownership of this dam from PECO in the 1990s with the condition that PECO renovate the dam structure and install a fish ladder for migrating fish to pass the dam.  
  • In 2012 the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) included the dam on a national register of sites with hydropower generating potential. 
  • In 2016 the County began to explore the feasibility of adding hydropower to the dam. The project was found to be technically feasible, but financing options put project development on hold. 
  • In 2021 additional external funding opportunities for small hydropower were announced and the County decided to resume design and permitting efforts at the site. 
  • An updated 2023 feasibility study found that hydropower technology has improved since 2017 and the current financial landscape is favorable for financing renewable energy projects.  

From their announcement:

Based on the recommendations of our consultant Verdantes, and with support of county staff and County Commissioners, the decision was made to pursue a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) exemption for the Norristown Dam.  The FERC exemption process begins by filing the Initial Consultation Document (ICD).  The ICD has been filed with FERC and has been designated Docket No. P-15347.

The County hosted the Norristown Dam Hydroelectric Project FERC Exemption Application Joint Agency and Public Meeting on June 5, 2024 at the Bridgeport Borough Hall. 

Their application is below:

According to the Inquirer, the county plans to use most of the energy to power county-owned buildings.

The idea has been around for two decades, and officials are hoping to make a decision by 2026. The station could be operational by 2028 and would cost an estimated $30 million, though various energy programs would make the project more affordable.

Hydropower is considered one of the cheapest forms of renewable energy, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Advantages include:

  • Hydropower is a renewable source of energy. The energy generated through hydropower relies on the water cycle, which is driven by the sun, making it renewable.
  • Hydropower is fueled by water, making it a clean source of energy.
  • Hydroelectric power is a domestic source of energy, allowing each state to produce its own energy without being reliant on international fuel sources.
  • Impoundment hydropower creates reservoirs that offer recreational opportunities such as fishing, swimming, and boating. Most hydropower installations are required to provide some public access to the reservoir to allow the public to take advantage of these opportunities. 
  • Hydroelectric power is flexible. Some hydropower facilities can quickly go from zero power to maximum output. Because hydropower plants can generate power to the grid immediately, they provide essential backup power during major electricity outages or disruptions.
  • Hydropower provides benefits beyond electricity generation by providing flood control, irrigation support, and clean drinking water.
  • Hydropower is affordable. Hydropower provides low-cost electricity and durability over time compared to other sources of energy. Construction costs can even be mitigated by using preexisting structures such as bridges, tunnels, and dams.
  • Hydropower complements other renewable energy sources. Technologies like pumped storage hydropower (PSH) store energy to use in tandem with renewables such as wind and solar power when demand is high.
  • Hydropower is an established industry in the United States, employing 66,500 people. And there are a growing number of jobs available in hydropower, including manufacturing, utilities, professional and business services, construction, trade and transportation, energy systems, water management, environmental science, welding, machinery, and other services.
  • The U.S. hydropower workforce could grow to 120,000 jobs by 2030 and 158,000 by 2050. For those interested in becoming part of this workforce, hydropower education programs can be found nationwide.
  • Hydropower creates jobs in rural locations and boosts local economies.

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Photo: Montco