For Lebanon

Monday, November 09, 2015
Lebanon — A Boston-based hydropower developer is exploring the possibility of using two dams along the Mascoma River — one existing and one proposed — to generate electricity.

Grafton Hydro LLC has filed for a preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to see if it is feasible — economically and environmentally — to generate power from the existing Mascoma Lake Dam and from a new dam proposed to be constructed on the Mascoma River in downtown Lebanon.

Thomas Tarpey, the managing member of Grafton Hydro, has been working in the field since 1980s. He is an executive vice president of Boston-based Essex Hydro, which, through a subsidiary, 10 years ago revived a hydroelectric generating station near the North Hartland Dam.

Tarpey said he’s been watching the Mascoma River in Lebanon for about 30 years. He noticed no one else has received a permit to explore the area’s potential and he now has some time to pursue it.

He hopes to put in a “nice little development there,” he said.

Tarpey hopes to generate approximately 1.5 megawatts of power from the downtown dam, according to the FERC filing. He aims to generate 600 kilowatts from the Mascoma Lake Dam. One megawatt of power generates enough electricity to power roughly 750 homes, according to the California Energy Commission’s website.

As proposed, the new downtown dam’s intake would be located between High Street and Route 120, behind the Mascoma Village Apartments. A pipe would carry water to a power house located between Foundry Street and Water Street — between Mason Racing and the Whitman Communications building.

Before construction, Tarpey said he would need permission from the landowners along the river in the affected area — which would extend approximately from the Route 120 bridge over the Mascoma to the section between Kleen dry cleaners and Central Supply.

The preliminary permit, if granted, would allow Tarpey to explore the feasibility of generating power from the two dams and prevent any possible competitors from doing the same.

“It sounds like a great idea to me — subject to all the details,” said David Brooks, Lebanon’s director of planning and zoning. “It would be nice to make better use of the river.”

The plans don’t call for any changes to the nearby Rivermill Hydroelectric Dam. Without knowing the details of the plan, Brooks said he couldn’t think of a problem with installing a new dam to replace the old ones.

He said he is hopeful current uses such as kayaking, fishing and fish spawning will be taken into consideration.

“In a perfect world, we wouldn’t want a dam to preclude other uses of the river,” Brooks said.

Regarding the Mascoma Lake Dam, Brooks said it would make sense to generate power from the existing structure.

“The Mascoma Lake Dam always struck me as a missed opportunity,” he said. “It’s already there; already having any impact it’s having.”

The Mascoma Lake Dam is owned by the state and managed by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Dam Bureau. In order to generate power from the facility, Tarpey would need to enter a lease agreement with the state, according to Jim Gallagher Jr., chief engineer with the bureau.

Leasing out the dam for hydropower generation would not be unprecedented, Gallagher said. The state leases out approximately 11 hydropower dams around the state, he said.

The idea of generating power from the Mascoma Lake Dam is not new, Gallagher said. Since the 1970s developers have explored the possibility, but so far no one has found that they would earn the necessary return on investment from doing so, he said.

In addition to a FERC permit, Tarpey would likely need to obtain wetland permits from DES and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Tarpey may also need a shoreland permit, and should historic resources be impacted, the Division of Historical Resources may get involved, Gallagher said.

Tarpey is familiar with the necessary steps. His company, Essex, operates six hydropower facilities in New Hampshire, he said.

While concerns about problems relating to flooding may have deterred previous developers, Tarpey said he is familiar with technology that can allow the dam to store water during normal periods, but improve flow during flooding.

“I’m not seeking to cause people problems,” he said.

Hartland Town Manager Bob Stacey said the town’s arrangement with Tarpey’s Essex Hydro has worked well, and he described Essex Hydro as a “good outfit.”

Under a revenue sharing agreement, Hartland gets about $20,000 annually, receiving 2.5 percent of the revenue up to $400,000, 5 percent of power sales between $401,000 and $800,000, and 7 percent of any power sales above that.

“The more they make, the more we make,” Stacey said. “We’re very happy with what they’re doing.”

FERC is accepting comments on Tarpey’s request for a preliminary permit. The filing — docket number P-14718 — can be viewed on the FERC website at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/elibrary.asp.

Nora Doyle-Burr can be reached at ndoyleburr@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.


Tom Tarpey, a Boston-based hydropower developer who is exploring the possibility of establishing two generating stations along the Mascoma River in Lebanon, is the managing member of Grafton Hydro LLC and the executive vice president of Essex Hydro. An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported his titles.