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Potsdam hydro plant nearly set for spring startup

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POTSDAM — The end of the lengthy West Dam Hydroelectric project is within sight. After numerous delays spanning five years, village leaders hope the plant will begin generating power by this spring.

Last week the village Board of Trustees accepted a $59,000 proposal from engineering firm HMT Inc., Cicero, to begin working with National Grid Inc. to connect the turbines to the main power grid.

“The first thing is getting all the components so that National Grid and our components work together the way they should,” said Village Administrator David H. Fenton.

Once the village has connected to the grid it will be able to sell power to National Grid and others, and the hydro project will finally begin making money.

So far the project has cost the village close to $4.5 million, and it will cost about $200,000 more to see it through to completion. Potsdam is three years into paying off a 20-year loan on the project, at $230,000 annually.

There are still a few roadblocks in the way before the plant can finally begin generating power.

“There always seems to be other hurdles to get over,” said Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis.

National Grid has stringent grounding requirements, which allow electricity to be safely channeled into the ground in case of emergency. These requirements will require a well be drilled through bedrock at the plant site. The village is still waiting for a quote to determine the cost of the well. It is expected to cost several thousand dollars.

“It’s not an enormous amount of money, but it does take more time to complete the project,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

As the plant is connected to the power grid, engineers are working to manufacture and install the primary control panel.

Village leaders are considering selling the electricity generated by the plant to customers other than National Grid, like Clarkson University. This could allow Potsdam to fix the price of electricity over a long period, rather than having it fluctuate according to the rapidly changing prices set by the state power market. No decisions, however, have been finalized.

“We just want to test the water and definitely get the best price we can for our electricity,” Mr. Fenton said.

Construction on the West Dam Hydro plant began in 2008 and was slated for completion in Summer 2009. It suffered numerous delays, mostly due to Canadian Turbines Inc., the company hired in 2007 to provide most of the essential components for the project. The Burlington, Ontario company failed to fulfill its contract, causing the village to sue.

State Supreme Court Judge David R. Demarest awarded Potsdam $6.8 million in the lawsuit, although it is unlikely the village will ever see that much money. The current state of Canadian Turbines is unknown, and village leaders are working with Canadian attorneys to determine the company’s status. The lawsuit will probably stretch on for months after power has finally begun to flow from the hydro plant.

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