Current driven

by Becky Gillette

Published: December 22,2008

Hydro Green Energy of Houston, whose CEO is a native of Natchez, is making a big splash in renewable energy development. Hydro Green Energy, in partnership with the City of Hastings, Minn., has become the first company in the country to have its hydrokinetic technology receive a license to produce clean, emissions-free power that uses river current velocity to produce electricity.

Hastings received a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in mid-December for the Hydro Green Energy project to generate electricity from turbines placed underwater in the Mississippi River. The Hastings project will be evaluated for efficiency and its impact on the environment. If the Hastings project is proven successful, it will pave the way for two similar facilities in Vicksburg and Natchez — as well as other locations along the Mississippi River.

“We are committed to demonstrating how our patented technology interacts with the environment and are working to ensure that we possess the premier technology in the hydrokinetic power industry from a marine life and environmental standpoint,” said Wayne F. Krouse, chairman and CEO of Hydro Green Energy, who was born and raised in Natchez. “Modeling shows that our turbine is extraordinarily environmentally-friendly, but we want real world results to validate our simulations and look forward to sharing those results.”

Krouse said once the Hastings project is operational, extensive water quality, fish survival and avian studies will be performed. While all modeling and simulations point to no water quality and possibly no fish mortality impacts, Krouse said only rigorous, precise scientific studies will settle these issues once and for all and allow the industry to move forward in a more timely and orderly manner.

“To advance the understanding of hydrokinetic technologies for all stakeholders, the comprehensive study results will be made public as swiftly as possible, another first in the industry,” Krouse said.

Hydrokinetic power doesn’t require the use of a dam like conventional hydroelectric generating facilities. But Hydro Green Energy’s patented technology can also be used at existing hydropower facilities, which Krouse said allows for new, environmentally-friendly power generation within the existing project footprint.

The company proposes putting such turbines downstream from a number of dams in Mississippi including the Arkabutla, Sardis, Enid and Grenada dams, where they will also develop small scale, low-impact traditional hydropower.

The company’s proposals could bring a number of new jobs to the state. The Hastings project has resulted in 61 green jobs in seven states over the past two years. The company hopes to replicate that success as more facilities are constructed.

“Despite the great economic and employment uncertainty facing the U.S. workforce, Hydro Green Energy is providing work for Americans, creating local economic development and presenting exciting new opportunities to America’s skilled workforce,” said Krouse. “We greatly look forward to expanding these opportunities in the coming years.”

Hydro Green Energy is partnering with the City of Hastings on the project that will produce as much as 200 kilowatts of electricity at the plant located on the Army Corps of Engineers’ Lock & Dam No. 2. One turbine is being installed in December and another in April 2009.

The Hastings project is in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, which is part of the National Park system. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Energy in November signed a Memorandum of Understanding and publicly announced a new program that will help the National Park Service showcase sustainable energy practices.

“This partnership will deploy energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies throughout the National Park System,” said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne in announcing the program, which is known as Energy SmartPARKS. “We have the power to not only improve conditions in the parks, but also demonstrate for the public the impacts and benefits of green energy innovations.”

“Our national parks are a showcase of this country’s natural beauty and historical significance,” said Secretary of Energy Samuel Bodman. “With this agreement, we’re ensuring that these parks are also models of energy efficiency and clean energy technologies.”

Krouse said the Hastings project fits squarely into the program announced by the Departments of Energy and Interior.

“I hope the Departments celebrate our achievement and will work closely and cooperatively with the city and Hydro Green as we monitor the performance of our technology and work to deploy additional projects,” Krouse said. “We hope Secretaries Kempthorne and Bodman, as well as the incoming secretaries of the Obama Administration, will soon visit Hastings so they can see firsthand how hydrokinetic power technologies will play a key role in our nation’s future clean energy and economic strategies.”

Mark Stover, vice president of governmental and external affairs, Hydro Green Energy, said the Minnesota project will be a springboard to place the company in a clear leadership position within the hydrokinetic industry. It will also help the company raise funds for additional projects.

The projects in Mississippi could have a major impact on the economy.

“The Hasting project has brought a lot of business to the local community,” Stover said. “We have created some economic development. We put people to work who weren’t working this time of year, or lost their job overseas. I think as we move ahead to generating more electricity, there could be some pretty big projects.”

The Hastings project is relatively small compared to a large natural gas or coal-fired power plant. But Stover said the company hopes to scale up from the current project at Hastings to 50-megawatt projects in the future.

“There could be some pretty big projects in the future,” he said. “The most jobs would be created during the construction and installation phase, which would be one to five years in duration.”

Two other companies are also interested in using the Mississippi River current to produce electricity. A total of 55 to 60 turbine sites are planned along the river at a cost of $3 billion for projects that would generate 1,600 megawatts of electricity.

For more information on Hydro Green Energy, see the website http://www.hgenergy.com/.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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