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Turbine project being eyed for Natchez

Free Flow uses submerged turbines mounted on pilings above the river bed that do not interfere with river navigation even at low water.

A Boston company is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to grant it a permit to study the feasibility of placing electricity-generating turbines in the St. Catherine Bend of the Mississippi River near Natchez.

St. Catherine is part of a grouping of hydro-kinetic projects that Free Flow Power has been developing along the Mississippi River for the past several years. The latest application is to continue study and evaluation work related to those projects.

Overall, Free Flow has nearly 60 projects that stretch from the Gulf of Mexico to St. Louis along the Mississippi River, and a handful of sites along the Ohio and Missouri rivers.

Free Flow general counsel Daniel Lissner said in an interview last week Free Flow has been using data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Geological Survey and from community stakeholders to determine which of those sites would be viable for the turbine project.

“Our projects are put into two groups,” LIssner said. “Our oldest projects, which currently number about 40, had the successive permits for them issued last year. The second group, which includes St. Catherine Bend, is a part of 18 permit applications that are currently pending.”

St. Catherine and the rest of the sites share a common deployment concept, which use submerged turbines mounted on pilings above the river bed. The pilings will not be directly on the bottom, per se, but will sit deep enough not to interfere with the navigable channels.

“The sites would have to ensure that even in low water levels, vessels would be able to travel safely above the hyrdro-kinetic pilings,” LIssner said.

The projects won’t use one or two large turbines. Instead, the pilings at just one site like St. Catherine will support over 6,000 turbines, which is the average at all the sites the company is evaluating. Each turbine, Lissner said, is about three meters in diameter.

“And they’re designed that way to be able to deploy them in the appropriate locations within a site, and to be potentially able to deploy them at as many sites where it’s appropriate to do so. The key is a lot of little turbines instead of one really large turbine that would only fit in a few locations.”

At St. Catherine and most every other site Free Flow is eyeing, the pilings would sit in a bend of the river, where the water is generally deeper and faster.

“It also happens that the bend of the river is closer to the shoreline, which is ultimately where the electricity is going to come on shore. For a variety of reasons, those river bends are particularly attractive locations.”

Lissner said a specific plan for interconnection at St. Catherine — or who the electricity generated by the turbines would serve — would be determined once site capability is specifically determined, and local electric utilities are consulted.

“Our plan at this point is to seek permission to connect to the electricity grid and deliver power to consumers in Mississippi, to homes and businesses within the utility’s distribution.”

The sites could ostensibly offer direct service to some consumers along the Mississippi River, Lissner said, which could include business along the river that want to diversify their power sources.

“They could conceivably own these turbines and generate their own electricity once all the necessary approvals are gotten. That’s the attraction of deploying a number of small turbines in a variety of locations.”

The permit Free Flow is seeking is for three years. Lissman said the next major step for all the projects, St. Catherine included, is to conduct a demonstration deployment somewhere along the Mississippi River. The demonstration will evaluate the hydraulic, river life-related and navigational effects of the turbines project. It’s required under the study plan set forth by FERC.

“We’re in the process of identifying a location for that demonstration and securing the equipment and financing necessary to conduct it,” Lissner said, adding that it’s possible St. Catherine could serve as the demo site. Whatever location is selected will have to have at least some of the characteristics of each site.

Once the site is finalized, Lissner said Free Flow would start what he called “pre-deployment monitoring,” which would include placing in the Mississippi River four turbines on four pilings, whose results the company would evaluate for about a year. Once that is done, Free Flow could finalize its license applications for St. Catherine and the rest of its sites.


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