From Stripping Pit to Power Plant: Southeast PA Company plans hydroelectric projects for Shen-Penn, Rattlin' Run
By David Lindenmuth
SHENANDOAH - The Shen-Penn Stripping Pit in Shenandoah borough could soon find use again, if a Doylestown, Bucks County company is permitted to move forward with its proposal.
The company, Merchant Hydro Developers, LLC, has been given a preliminary permit by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to study the feasibility of it's proposal to use the pit as part of a Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project.
The project, the largest of 21 which Merchant Hydro has filed applications for, would include the Shen-Penn pit and two new reservoirs atop Locust Mountain, near the Locust Ridge Wind Farm.
The new power facility would, during the day, release water from the upper two reservoirs into the lower reservoir, Shen-Penn, generating electricity. Overnight, the facility would use power generated by the nearby windmills to pump water from Shen-Penn to refill the upper reservoirs.
The pit is owned by Reading Anthracite, Pottsville, while the land atop Locust Mountain is owned by the Girard Estate, Philadelphia. The Shen-Penn pit has been abandoned since the 1960s, slowly filled with water, and was the site of three deaths in the late 1980s and 1990s, sparking discussions and project studies to fill the pit, none of which came to fruition.
The preliminary permit issued for the project only grants Merchant Hydro the ability to study the feasibility of the project, and does not grant the company the ability to disturb land or undertake any construction projects, according to the permit.
The Federal Energy Regulator Commission filed a public notice in February requesting any comments or concerns. Only the United States Department of the Interior filed a comment on the Shenandoah project.
"Interior expressed concern that the proposed project could have an adverse effect on existing fish and wildlife resources and their habitats, including federally threatened and endangered species. Specifically, Interior commented that the proposed project would require a significant amount of forest clearing as the upper reservoirs’ footprints overlap as much as 470 acres of forest and wildlife habitat, including a portion of the Bears Head Ridgetop Dwarf-Tree Forest Natural Heritage Area, and the two potential transmission line routes also bisect significant areas of forest... Interior noted that the upper reservoirs would be located immediately up-slope of Rattling Run, a Pennsylvania Class A Wild Trout stream. Therefore, forest clearing and groundwater or surface water withdrawal to fill the proposed reservoirs could adversely affect hydrology and water quality in Rattling Run."
Rattlin Run Project
Merchant Hydro was also awarded a preliminary permit for another Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project at Rattlin' Run in Brandonville.
According to the permit, "the proposed project would consist of the following: (1) as many as two new upper reservoirs with a combined surface area of 280 acres and a combined storage capacity of 5,040 acre-feet at a surface elevation of approximately 1,760 feet above mean sea level (msl) created through construction of new roller-compacted concrete or rockfilled dams and/or dikes; (2) excavating a new lower reservoir with a surface area of 131 acres and a total storage capacity of 5,040 acre-feet at a surface elevation of 1,099 feet msl; (3) a new 900-foot-long, 48-inch-diameter penstock connecting the upper reservoirs; (4) a new 3,387-foot-long, 48-inch-diameter penstock connecting the upper and lower reservoirs; (5) a new 150-foot-long, 50-foot-wide powerhouse containing two turbinegenerator units with a total rated capacity of 300 megawatts; (6) a new transmission line connecting the powerhouse to a nearby electric grid interconnection point with options to evaluate multiple grid interconnection locations; and (7) appurtenant facilities. Possible initial fill water and make-up water would come from Catawissa Creek. The estimated annual generation of the Rattlin Run Project would be 867,187 megawatt-hours."
Following a public notice from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Department of the Interior and the Mahanoy Township Authority filed comments regarding the proposed project.
James Rhoades Jr, filed the concerns on behalf of the Authority.
"Mr. Rhoades states that since the project proposal is conceptual it is not clear exactly where the proposed project facilities and boundaries are located, but it appears the upper reservoir would be located on Authority property or in the public water supply watershed. He further states that the taking of these lands or waters from the public water supply system would be detrimental to the Authority’s operation as a public water supply." The permit outlines.
"Interior expresses concern that the construction and operation of the proposed Rattlin Run Project may adversely impact existing fish and wildlife resources and habitats. Specifically, Interior comments that the proposed project would require a significant amount of forest clearing as the upper and lower reservoirs’ footprints overlap as much as 400 acres of forest and wildlife habitat, including a portion of the Bears Head Ridgetop Dwarf-Tree Forest Natural Heritage Area. Interior states that the construction of upper reservoir(s) adjacent to an existing wind farm may attract waterfowl or other bird species which could create an increased risk of colliding with the wind turbines...Interior states that it would be opposed to any hydroelectric construction or operation that would destroy or seriously degrade fish and wildlife resources in the Susquehanna River tributaries, Davis Run and Catawissa Creek, or surrounding areas. Interior recommends that Merchant be required to coordinate with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to consider development and operations that would be compatible with existing fish and wildlife resources."
Merchant Hydro was also awarded a preliminary permit to study the Girard Estate Pump Storage Project in Northumberland County, but the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is reviewing 17 other applications, 16 of which are in Pennsylvania.