Nine non-federal hydroelectric power plants exist in the Pittsburgh region, and if all goes to plan, a tenth will supply the University of Pittsburgh with a significant portion of its energy by 2022.
Boston-based Rye Development, Inc. intends to build its plant at Allegheny Lock and Dam No. 2, which is owned and operated by the Pittsburgh District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Pitt signed a letter of intent to buy 100 percent of the energy produced at the plant, estimated at 50,000 megawatt hours annually.
The agreement will allow Pitt to make progress on one of its sustainability goals to buy half of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030, said Gregory Scott, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for business and operations.
“We saw this as an opportunity to reach half of that goal just by going and partnering with Rye Development in the development of this plant,” he said. “It’s a pretty big deal and it’s a pretty bold move for us.”
The university and Rye continue to negotiate the exact terms of the long-term power purchase agreement. However, the commitment will allow Rye to finance construction of its first plant in the region, which will likely enable construction of other plants, said Scott, adding that he sees the university as taking a leadership role in advancing hydropower in the region.
“I mean it’s a renewable resource that’s there, it’s long-term, it’s not going anywhere,” he said. “These low-impact hydro dams which sit just on the side of the river really are quite impressive in what they’re able to do and what they’re able to produce without having a negative environmental impact on the region.”
Rye is one of several developers working to bring more hydroelectric power plants on line in the next decade. According to the Corps, Rye holds 10 federal licenses, among the most of any developer.
Rye CEO Paul Jacob was not immediately available for comment.
While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission orchestrates the first expansive round of permissions and reviews, such as for environmental protection, the Corps has the final word at the local level, said Sara Woida, the Pittsburgh District hydropower coordinator.
“We want to make sure that our dams are still safe to operate and that the locks can still maintain navigational traffic … making sure the environment is not degraded.”
The federal government authorizes different purposes for different Corps assets, or projects. The primary purpose of the locks and dams in the Pittsburgh District is to ensure the rivers remain navigable. So Rye’s proposed plant can’t impair the structural integrity of the dam, which maintains a navigable pool.
The timeline of Rye’s proposed power plant remains unclear. Woida said the Corps has specific schedules in which to review design plans and specifications, but they have not yet received them from the company.
WESA receives money from the University of Pittsburgh.