Potsdam’s new hydro generators could finally start making money for the village this weekend
Saturday, March 29, 2014 - 8:28 am

By CRAIG FREILICH

POTSDAM – The Village of Potsdam’s new hydroelectric generators are expected to be sending electric power to the grid this weekend.

“We have full authorization from National Grid to tie in, and we hope to be generating this weekend,” said Village Administrator David Fenton.

This could be the happy ending to a long saga of disappointment and delay.

The project was nearly sunk when Canadian Turbines of Burlington, Ont., which was under contract to supply the turbines, failed to do so after taking large payments from the village. Trying to force Richard Kuiper, the firm’s owner, to make and send the parts took time, but ultimately the village had to turn to another supplier.

There is a multi-million dollar judgment against the firm, but “we’re collaborating with Canadian lawyers who say there is virtually nothing to get from the guy,” Fenton said. “If it ever becomes feasible to collect on the judgment, we will.”

Since then there was another delay when the second supplier sent turbine blades that were defective and had to be replaced. They were replaced, but then there were several delays as technical details such as balancing the turbines and calibrating controls had to be ironed out, and, more recently, the fact that technicians “have been fighting ice, like everybody else,” Fenton said.

Now grid operator National Grid is satisfied the generators and ancillary systems are up to par and the village can throw the switch.

And National Grid will be the sole customer for the west dam’s power, as it has been for the east dam’s generation, at least until the village works out another deal.

“We’ll just be selling to directly to National Grid, the same as with the east plant, but we’re negotiating with a potential long-term contractor,” Fenton said, declining to name the prospective electricity buyer.

One consolation is that the price the village will be getting for the generators’ output is much higher than it was not long ago.

“It’s very high,” said Fenton. “It was 12¢ in January and 8¢ in February” per kilowatt-hour, while it had been at about 3¢ a few years ago.

Fenton says that is because while natural gas had been in good supply last year, a lot of the supply has been taken up making heat in this winter’s cold weather, causing the price of natural gas, a major fuel for electric generation, more expensive, driving up the cost for everybody.

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

But village officials are confident the project will easily pay for itself and then some.