Cheshire couple envisions net-zero home at former hydro-power site

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CHESHIRE — A retired engineer and his wife are hoping to reactivate a historic hydro-power facility near an old stone dam on the Hoosic River off Harbor Road.

However, Kenneth Egnaczak said he knows he faces a daunting task to gain federal and state approvals to produce electricity using the 60-foot wide dam, over which the southern branch of the Hoosic flows on its way toward Adams and North Adams.

"There is a big difference between a micro-hydro facility and Hoover Dam," Egnaczak said, referring to the permitting process, "but it seems they are all treated the same."

He said the Cheshire dam site, which has a maximum production capacity of 30 kilowatts of electricity, could produce enough electricity to contribute to the power grid, and also meet the needs of a zero-energy-use house he and his wife, Susan, hope to build downstream from the dam.

But if he wants to connect to the grid and/or produce more than a small amount of power, Ednaczak said, that could trigger additional layers of Federal Energy Regulatory Commission review and a more complex and lengthy permitting process.

FERC, which currently is considering whether it has jurisdiction over the project, could initiate a federal permit review for other reasons as well.

As it is, Egnaczak said, from what he has learned from conversations with state officials over the past several years, "this is a very frustrating process."

Unlike solar power facilities, which are encouraged through state laws and regulations, he said hydro facilities face lengthy reviews involving more than one agency and receive no financial incentives.

For a government that says it wants to promote alternative energy sources, "they are not doing much for hydro power," he said, adding, "and we have this [old mill] infrastructure all over the state."

The proposed project now is before FERC, which has announced a comment period and intends to make a determination whether the project should fall under FERC jurisdiction. A legal advertisement publish in The Eagle on Thursday states that the agency will consider whether the facility is on a navigable waterway, would occupy public lands or utilize surplus water or water power from a government dam, among other considerations.

Egnaczak said the mill site, located downstream from the dam, dates to the colonial era and was once known as the Jenks cotton mill. The original mill has been dismantled, but remaining mill buildings — including the old powerhouse building — are visible near the Adams line and Route 8.

The last company that used the dam site to produce electricity moved to North Adams during the 1970s, he said.

A spokeswoman for the state Department of Environmental Protection said Friday that, in general, as the agency doesn't currently have the project before it for review, the state permit considerations would involve the effects on wetlands and waterways.

Egnaczak said he believes fish and wildlife and other agencies also would have to weigh in during the permitting process for a hydro facility.

Contact Jim Therrien at 413-496-6247.

Information, comments ...

Comments, protests or motions to intervene in the process may be posted on the FERC website, www.ferc.gov.

The applicants are Kenneth and Susan Egnaczak, of Windsor Road, Cheshire, and the project is called the Egnaczak Net Zero Hydropower Project. Its FERC docket number is listed as D115-03-000.

Questions about the process also may be directed to FERC, at 202-502-6437.


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