The following has been reprinted from the Battenkill Business Journal, November 2009.
By TRICIA N. HAYES
The possibility of generating hydroelectricity to power the Bennington College campus and some homes is a license away, if Bill Scully gets his way.
In June, Scully and wife Maria Scully purchased the former Vermont Tissue mill on the Walloomsac River next to the Paper Mill covered bridge.
The couple hopes to restore the historic 12,000-square-foot-building with 27-foot-tall ceilings, and refurbish the dam and hydroelectric power station to generate 250 kilowatts annually. The dam predates the entrance of Vermont into the Union as the 14th state. It powered the mill until its decommissioning in the 1950s.
â€œIt is about clean, renewable energy that will lessen our dependence on foreign fossil fuels,â€ said Bill Scully. The site could generate as much as 50 percent of the collegeâ€™s energy needs and help it meet its goals in its new biomass project.
In January, the couple approached the town for approval of their hydro project, since the Federal Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) looks to the local governing body for its acceptance of the project. At the same time, the town was seeking approval for its own inline hydro project to provide drinking water.
Approval for the townâ€™s project came from the federal agency in just under six months. The Scullysâ€™ project also must win approval from the ANR, which is hampered by the lack of a formal application process for this type of project.
Central Vermont Public Service (CVPS) welcomes the project, since it would lessen the cost of power purchased at peak periods and reduce the amount lost in delivering power over transmission lines to remote places. CVPS has lobbied to increase approvals for small hydro generating plants from 100 to 250 kilowatts to encourage such projects.
Vermont regulations trail behind many other state initiatives for hydro. It wasnâ€™t until this past January that the legislature passed the 401 Clean Water Act recognizing hydro as a legitimate source of power. â€œThere hasnâ€™t been a permit issued in five years,â€ said Scully. To meet some of the requirements, Scully has enlisted the assistance of the Bennington Regional Commission, which is funding some of the testing required by the ANR.
â€œThe site, in fact, has two dams,â€ said Scully. â€œThe one at the abandoned mill, which we hope to restore, and another is a natural bedrock dam just on the other side of the bridge.â€ Anglers fish at both sites, he said.
The site was placed on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agencyâ€™s (EPA) brown fields list, identifying it as land that may be compromised by the presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant that could deter expansion, redevelopment or reuse. Cleaning up and reinvesting in such properties protects the environment, reduces blight and takes development pressures off green spaces and working lands, according to the EPA.
â€œThe Vermont Tissue site has been tested and found to contain dioxins, a heterocyclic, organic, anti-aromatic compound that can be removed by power washing and painting the building,â€ said Scully.
On a recent visit to the site, almost a week after any significant rain, water was streaming over the 80-foot-wide dam at the rate of 80 cubic feet per second. According to Scully, it was one foot deep, although he had witnessed over three feet spilling into the river during spring runoff and heavy rains. On those occasions, said Scully, â€œit will flood the mill and cover Route 67, _spreading dirt and gasoline to nearby wetlands.
â€œBy replacing the works, the flooding would be controlled and resolve these issues,â€ he said.
If the project is approved, Scully plans to purchase the turbines and build his own efficient generation systems. â€œI am hopeful that the review process will be speedy, allowing us to go forward within the next year,â€ said Scully.
The generation of hydro power is substantially cheaper than solar generation. â€œThe difference is $3.50 per kilowatt for hydro compared to $8 per kilowatt for solar,â€ he said. â€œThere is also a difference in the cost of the turbines and generation equipment compared to solar panels. Additionally, hydro generates electricity 24 hours a day, not just when the sun is out.â€
The previous mill owner abandoned plans to reestablish the hydro, a prospect Scully hopes wonâ€™t befall them. â€œBennington is a mill town and our mills should be running,â€ said Scully. The couple has many enterprises. They opened North Benningtonâ€™s Pangea Restaurant eight years ago, the Lounge a year later and bought Powers Market four years ago. They started the Italian restaurant Allegro in Bennington nearly three years ago; Bill Scully also is director of food services at Bennington College.
Bennington VT, North Bennington VT, Environmental, Community Information