Following 6 years of frustration, Potsdam hydroelectric dam finally produces power, sale of electricity in near future
Wednesday, March 5, 2014 - 11:34 am

 

Potsdam administrator David Fenton and village mayor Steve Yugartis work a control pannel used to operate the Maple Street dam.

By JIMMY LAWTON

POTSDAM – After six years of hang-ups, delays and litigation Potsdam’s west hydropower dam is producing electricity.

Through a whirring sound of machinery, Mayor Steve Yugartis and administrator Dave Fenton celebrated years of work when the power dam on Maple Street finally produced Wednesday morning.

Yugartis, who is also a mechanical engineer, said it will take a week or two get the plant running at a level where it can sell power into the open market, but called the event a major success for the village.

“If we get both generators working the way they should be today then we could be selling power next, week,” he said. “But we are producing power and that’s a big first step,” he said.

It took a few attempts, but after several adjustments one of the two generators was producing between 150 and 190-kilowatt of power. The dam consists of two generators each capable of producing about 450 kilowatts.

Yugartis said ice build up was limiting flows, but that problem would be addressed once both generators were operating.

Yugartis said he is hopeful the plant will generate an annual revenue stream of about $200,000, but said time will tell what the actual profits will be.

Administrator David Fenton, who has been actively working on the project for years, said it was great to see the dam finally running.

“Once this thing starts producing power it’s going to pay for itself,” he said.

While the village is still looking for a long-term contract for a fixed rate with a private buyer, a contract with National Grid is being prepared based on the floating “next-day” rate from the New York Independent System Operator, the state’s electricity broker.

That contract will have a clause allowing Potsdam to cancel it if another buyer is found.

The cost of the project has risen from the original $3.5 million to close to $4.7 million, because Canadian Turbines, an Ontario-based equipment manufacturer, failed to deliver parts it said it would. The village had to finally purchase the parts elsewhere.

The village has a judgment of nearly $7 million against the Canadian firm in state court, and work is being done to see what can be done through Canadian courts, but chances of recovering that from Canadian Turbines appear slim.

The village took out a $3.5 million 20-year loan for the project, which is being repaid at about $250,000 a year, Fenton said the village has 16 years left on that loan.

To make up the shortfall, the village expects to use money from a reserve fund from revenues from the first hydro plat east of the new one, and a capital fund.

Despite the hang-ups and problems both Fenton and Yugartis agreed that the dam will be a sound investment for the future as energy costs in the future are likely to increase.

“I think we are on the right side of history,” he said.