FAIR HAVEN — The town was created when a dam allowed for an iron factory to be installed, and the town now wants to revitalize the dam on the Castleton River to meet the town’s energy needs, according to Select Board Chairman Bob Richards.
But the town is nervous that the state Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) won’t allow that to happen due to a previous lawsuit that could color its decision on whether or not to allow Fair Haven to utilize the dam for hydroelectric power.
“It is the conclusion of our committee that there has been a change in attitude and policy at the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in the past three years,” wrote Michael Stannard, chairman of the Fair Haven Energy Committee. “It is quite obvious to us that national nonprofits promoting ‘free-flowing rivers’ and the removal of dams is having a fundamental impact in changing the ANR’s policy ... and that the ultimate goal may very well be to put a damper on independent or community-based, micro-hydro projects.”
But Jeff Crocker, supervising river ecologist for ANR, said the case referred to an anti-degradation clause in the standards for clean water, wherein the state can’t approve a project that further degrades the water.
“I don’t see how they’re equal,” Crocker said. “That was re-licensing an existing project, this is a new project.”
In an April 9 letter to “Governor Phil Scott and Vermont Legislators” and signed by four members each of the Fair Haven Energy Committee and Fair Haven Select Board, Stannard cited the court case most recently heard by the Supreme Court in March on the Morrisville’s Green River Reservoir Project. The court placed limitations on how much water could be drawn from the reservoir and dictated how many cubic feet per second could be drawn from two dams on the Lamoille River.
“The Castleton River is also not a viable waterway for a ‘free-flowing’ stream with wild fish spawning populations, since the existence of the GMP dam downstream would impede that, as long as it exists,” Stannard said in the letter. “Wild rivers are absolutely important. We would hate to see a dam happen on the Lamoille River. We understand those agencies would not want to see this new up swelling (of dam implementations).”
Crocker said though the agency hasn’t received a proposal from the town yet, it’s highly unlikely that the agency would interrupt the project, focusing instead on maintaining the water quality.
“They’d have to put water in between the water discharge point and the dam,” Crocker said. “It’s the ‘Conservation Flow.’”
ANR is not currently reviewing a hydroelectric project for the town, and despite a current lack of proposal, Crocker said he can’t theoretically visualize any hurdles the town would have to overcome aside from the time restraints of the federal licensing process.
Once the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) receives a proposal from the town, ANR affirms whether the proposal is in compliance with the Clean Water Act, and subsequently issues a Clean Water Act Section 401 Water Quality Certification if the project meets Vermont’s Water Quality Standards and the Clean Water Act’s requirements.
Fair Haven’s proposed project would probably be what Crocker called a “run-of-river facility,” or one that doesn’t operate out of a store of water, so water is constantly flowing in and out at similar levels.
ANR would review the area of the Castleton River where water would be taken from, fed through the turbine, and then discharged back into the river, Crocker said.
The project would be good news for a town currently generating 4,000 watts of power when it needs 12,000 watts to be self-sufficient, Richards said.
“We’ve spent $10,000 on two engineering studies, and the second one shows this is a viable project,” Richards said. “There’s enough power (in the proposed hydroelectric facility) to power the entire town of Fair Haven.”
Richards said the town would just have to buy a generator and construct a building around it, but as the dam is already present, they wouldn’t have to further impact the waterway.
Stannard said the dam was licensed by FERC in 1989 and passed full requirements from the federal level, but in 2016 the legislature changed the requirements for renewable energy projects and set high expectations for renewable energy by 2050.
“The ANR is behind the scenes making it very difficult for a hydroelectric project to start up,” Stannard said.
The project that the town has planned would generate about 15.3 cents per kilowatt hour, Stannard said.
“This projection had us making money at 100% renewable energy credits in the first year,” Stannard said. “It will be a heck of a boom for our community.”
The dam would be making over $150,000 per year by 2045, Stannard said, and the next step would be to put it to a bond vote in the town.
“A lot of people are wondering ‘When are we getting this rolling?’” Stannard said.
Calls were made to contact Trout Unlimited on Monday, but were not immediately returned.