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MUB may buy power from Rye hydroelectric; says hope is investment would ‘pay for itself’

MORGANTOWN — Rye Development, the company behind a planned hydroelectric power station at the Morgantown Lock and Dam, is seeking commitments for the sale of power generated by the facility.
Morgantown Utility Board (MUB) General Manager Tim Ball said MUB recently sat for a presentation during which Rye laid out a number of scenarios ranging from a power purchase agreement to MUB purchasing the facility outright.
“Rye tells us that we are not the only entity that they are talking to. They mentioned WVU as another potential purchaser. It’s an exciting prospect for us,” Ball said.
While the cost of power would depend on the type of arrangement reached with Rye, Ball said he believes the partnership is worth exploring from an economic standpoint.
“There are a lot of other intangible benefits to the project. Those are good, but the bottom line is it’s got to pay for itself. While we’ve not yet performed that analysis I expect that it’s going to more than pay for itself. I expect it’s going to be an attractive opportunity from strictly a financial perspective.”
The project has been in the works in some fashion since 2012, when Rye — then called Free Flow Power — came forward with designs that would have required a relocation of the rail-trail, prompting an outcry from various stakeholders, including the city. Rye altered their plans, placing the power station in the river. It also took steps to appease community concerns by adding things like a fishing platform to the facility’s design.
The City of Morgantown is among a number of stakeholders including the Department of Environmental Protection, the Division of Natural Resources, the Mon River Trails Conservancy and the Upper Monongalia River Association, to ask the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to hold another hearing on the project. That request was denied earlier this year.
In the wake of those denials, the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) worked out Memorandums of Agreement (MOAs) with the developer to satisfy state and stakeholder concerns about environmental issues and disruption of local recreational fishing.
City Manager Paul Brake said the city fully supports renewable energy, but it still has concerns about the project, especially considering the multi-million dollar investment in riverfront revitalization set to get under way.
“The original documents that FERC approved were quite vague,” Brake said. “Then they said, ‘Well, we’ll come up with a recreation plan.’ Well, that doesn’t really mean anything without detailing what specifically you mean by that.”
MUB member Ron Bane, who tracked the project for several years as a member of city council, said he doesn’t have much faith in the company or the project at this point.
“This thing’s been going on a long time and they’ve changed their name several times. I’m not a big fan to be honest with you. I’m a skeptic,” Bane said, cautioning the board to take a wait-and-see approach. “I don’t trust that they can pull this off.”
Ball said MUB has made no commitments other than to explore whether or not such a partnership would make sense for the utility.
MUB member Bill Rice said having access to a secondary, renewable power source is no different than MUB’s decision to build a second reservoir. If the benefits outweigh the costs, he said, why not hedge against future uncertainty?
“At some point what you have now will no longer fill your needs and money will have to be put in there somewhere to do something,” Rice said. “I’m in favor of going forward, but the devil’s in the details, so I guess we’ll see.”

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