Although it’s likely to be at least a half-dozen years away from reality, Columbus and Aberdeen may one day be home to hydroelectric power plants.
At least that’s the idea of a Georgia-based civil engineer who has taken the first steps in exploring the possibility of building hydroelectric power plants at the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam and the Aberdeen Lock and Dam.
Jeremy Wells, operating under the name of Tenn-Tom Hydro LLC of Macon, Georgia, has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to conduct a feasibility study of the Columbus and Aberdeen dams to determine the viability of hydroelectric power plants using the flow of water produced by the dams.
If Wells finds either or both sites would be profitable, he will look for a developer or investors in the projects. Electricity generated by the plants would be sold to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which provides electricity throughout most of north Mississippi.
The feasibility study will focus primarily on the water flow at the sites, Wells said.
“You need flow and water pressure to generate electricity,” Wells said. “The water pressure is based on how high the dam is, and the flow records give you an idea of how much energy it could produce. Once you determine that, you compare that to the construction costs it would take to build, along with the operating cots. It’s an economic analysis.”
The power plants would call for building hydroelectric facilities, infrastructure and transmission lines at the two dams where the power plants would operate by using surplus water — from the John C. Stennis Lock and Dam in Columbus or the Aberdeen Lock and Dam, both under the direction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
Wells estimated the Columbus plant would generate 52,000 megawatt-hours of electricity while the Aberdeen plant would generate 32,000 megawatt-hours. He said that output would be enough to generate electricity for 5,000 homes at the Columbus plant and 3,000 homes at the Aberdeen site.
He estimated construction costs at Columbus would be $30 million while the Aberdeen plant would cost $15 million to build.
“All of this is based on the feasibility study,” Wells said. “If the study shows that the plants can generate that amount of electricity, it would be a viable project.”
Celeste Miller, a spokesperson for the FERC, said the permit, if granted, would give Wells three years to conduct the study. The application is roughly halfway through a 60-day public comment period that will allow citizens to weigh in on the proposal and allow other entities to submit competing applications.
“What this does is give the permit holder a three-year time frame to study the site,” Miller said. “If the permit is granted, no one else can come in and develop plans for the site. After that, the permit holder would have file for a license, which is a separate process and much more involved.”
Wells said if he is granted a permit, he expects to have the feasibility study done within two years. If the project is viable, finding a developer and building the plants could take another four years.
“You’re looking at about six years (total), if everything falls into place,” Wells said.
Wells said he has experience in developing hydroelectric power plants in his home state of Colorado as well as Oregon.
“These are on a much bigger scale than anything I’ve done before,” he said.