A North Bennington entrepreneur has won state and federal permits to generate electricity at a 200 year old dam site on the Walloomsac River.
The developer says it took four years, and a lot of dialogue and collaboration to design the project.
Bill Scully and his company Carbon Zero purchased the old Vermont Tissue Mill in North Bennington in 2008.
Almost immediately Scully began his quest to revive the dam that once powered the mill. He hopes to produce electricity for about two hundred twenty homes and for his own businesses, which include a couple of restaurants and a store.
Before he filed an application, Scully spent more than a year working with the agencies involved in permitting hydro projects. He says he wanted his plans to anticipate their concerns.
“I think the thing I learned,” Scully says, “is that getting people to the table early on to talk about what their needs are going to be, really incorporating multiple views from the outset, is really helpful.”
Brian Fitzgerald is the stream flow coordinator for the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
“I think Bill recognized that there’s a process to go through to develop a project like this,” Fitzgerald comments. “And he worked well with us to figure out those details.”
The state must approve any new hydro proposal before it can be considered for licensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
Prospective hydro developers have complained that the process is difficult and unwieldy. Fitzgerald says it can be daunting.
“There’s a lot of engineering that goes into developing one of these things,” he says. “It takes time and it takes money. But there’s a reason for that. These are public waters and the resource protection is very important.”
Scully says his project will improve water quality by increasing the flow of water in a channel that’s now dry for part of the year. He says the plan will create new, year-round habitat for migrating fish and other aquatic life.
Scully says, “To actually go in and make the water quality better was an opportunity that I think the people in water quality really liked, that we were actually excited about doing that.”
Fitzgerald says it also helped that much of the old mill’s infrastructure was still in place. The state isn’t approving any new dam construction.
In fact, Vermont hadn’t permitted any new small hydro projects for many years, until five or six years ago, when new incentives for green energy projects entered the picture.
Fitzgerald says that most of the state’s economically viable hydro sites were developed in the 1980s, before the last round of incentives ended. After that, he says, proposals all but disappeared.
Fitzgerald says five projects, including Scully’s, have been licensed in the past few years
“These are very site-specific projects,” he says. “Every one is different. But every one we do, we learn some new things and ways that we can help people get through the process a little more smoothly.”
Scully hopes his experience will serve as a model for projects yet to come. He plans to start construction this summer.