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Pittsburgh Announces Plans for Hydroelectric Facility

Thursday, February 11, 2021

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At the end of January, Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced that the city of Pittsburgh was planning a new hydropower plant along the Ohio River.

Touted by Fitzgerald as a landmark environmental commitment, the project entails a 35-year agreement with Boston-based hydropower energy developer, Rye Development. According to reports, the company won favor with the county following a request for proposals in 2019, although the project has been in the works for a few years.

Allegheny Hydropower Plant

Slated to break ground later this year, the project still requires approval from the Army Corps of Engineers. However, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that the county claims the plant shouldn’t have any effect on recreation on the river. In a statement, the county went on to note that Rye planned on pursuing a low-impact environmental certification as it works to “ensure that the local river ecosystem is protected.”

“We are investing in future generations and the environment to make the quality of life here in southwestern Pennsylvania and Allegheny County everything it can be,” Fitzgerald said in a virtual press conference.

Planned to produce 17.8 megawatts of energy, the hydroelectric facility will be built at the existing Emsworth Main Channel Dam on the Ohio River across from Neville Island, sitting roughly two stories above the water levels. During construction, the project is expected to create up to 200 jobs, while after completion, the county intends to employ up to two full-time permanent positions.

As previously mentioned, the project involves a 35-year agreement where the county will buy about 40% of the renewable energy produced by Rye once the plant is completed—which could be as early as mid-2023. Spokesperson Amie Downs reports that Allegheny County uses roughly 50,000 megawatt-hours a year to power operations and buildings such as the Allegheny County Jail and the Allegheny County Courthouse.

In shifting to buy energy from 100% renewable sources, Downs said the county currently buys much of its electricity through a consortium. Through the new hydroelectric plant, yearly emissions are expected to be offset equal to the power consumption of more than 3,400 households. Additionally, county leaders expect the arrangement to generate savings over the long term as it provides “a fixed rate and stability in [county] expenses” and should average about $125,000 a year over the contract’s term.

As for the remaining 60% of electricity produced, Rye intends to sell to other customers.

“With this action, Fitzgerald has signaled to other stakeholders in the community that new hydropower on existing dams will provide 24/7 renewable energy while also resulting in local infrastructure investment,” said Rye CEO Paul D. Jacob in a statement.

For the project, Rye estimates that the construction of the facility will cost roughly $50 million—paid for through infrastructure investments and money raised in financial markets—and will produce energy for about 80-100 years.

Besides the new hydrodam in Allegheny County, Rye is also developing 10 other hydropower projects in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The University of Pittsburgh has already reported that it intends to buy all the power produced by a Rye plant planned for the Allegheny River near the Highland Park Bridge.


Tagged categories: Energy efficiency; Locks and dams; NA; North America; Power; Power; Power Plants; Program/Project Management; Project Management; Upcoming projects

Comment from Tom Schwerdt, (2/11/2021, 9:43 AM)

Neat project - I've been hearing about a new generation of "run of the river" hydro power, but this is the first specific project I've seen details on. Lots of opportunities for electric generation without needing to install massive new dams. Faster, less extensive construction will help a lot to keep costs down.

Comment from Gregory Stoner, (2/11/2021, 11:00 AM)

I hope when contracts are written we think about 40-50 years down the road.

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