Crown Hydro pushing harder for St. Anthony Falls turbine
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board commissioners were greeted at their meeting April 6 meeting with another offer from Crown Hydro to develop a hydroelectric facility on park land next to St. Anthony Falls.
The offer was not the first from Crown Hydro, but it was substantially less than its previous offer in 2007 — an offer the Park Board voted against pursuing back then.
But Crown Hydro may have some added bargaining power this time around. State Rep. Michael Beard (R-Shakopee) and 25 other state representatives from both parties have signed on to a bill that would cut state aid to the Park Board unless the Park Board grants Crown Hydro the necessary permits and authorization to build the facility.
The company’s attorney, Tim Keane, said he has also been working with the governor’s office while the bill was being drafted. Gov. Mark Dayton’s office did not return a phone message.
The Park Board collected $8 million in local government aid in 2010.
Many Park Board commissioners are vehemently opposed to the 3.2 megawatt facility, saying it will reduce Upper St. Anthony Falls — a central piece of Minneapolis heritage and tourist attraction — down to a trickle. They also raised questions about the company’s background.
“Make no mistake Minnesota and Minneapolis, this project has a huge impact on the river,” said Commissioner Anita Tabb, whose Fourth District includes St. Anthony Falls.
But Commissioner Jon Olson (District 2 in North Minneapolis) voiced his continued support of the project. He made an unsuccessful motion to direct the Park Board to negotiate a contract with Crown Hydro.
Olson said that since the last Crown Hydro proposal, BP oil has spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and nuclear waste has leaked in Japan.
“This is clean energy, it’s a good project and it’s environmentally friendly,” he said.
Crown Hydro obtained a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission license in 1999 to build the facility. It does not expire until 2049.
Keane said Park Board land and an engineering permit is all that stands in the way of constructing the underground facility on the west bank of the river.
The FERC license would allow Crown Hydro to, at times, draw enough water to dry up the falls. It allows the facility to dry up the falls at night and during the winter months in order to keep the turbines turning. It could also allow the facility to divert some water in July and August even if the falls are dry.
FERC, however, said in the 1999 license that the facility would only “ result in a small adverse effect on the aesthetic value of St. Anthony Falls.”
Keane said the facility would divert less than 1 percent of the water that flows over the falls.
Keane said Crown Hydro owner Bill Hawks is in discussions with several investors for the project, but he did not name those investors. Park Board commissioners said they want to know who they are before any decisions are made.
Crown Hydro’s latest offer is $500,000 and a minimum annual royalty of $50,000. In 2007 Crown Royal offered $1 million and $75,000 annually for rent.
Keane said current estimates peg the cost of constructing the facility at $5 to $6 million. He said construction would take six to eight months.
The offer gives the Park Board the first right of refusal to buy the facility once it is constructed.
The offer was referred to the Park Board’s planning committee for further review with the intent for it to come back to the full Park Board.
Crown Hydro attempted to introduce similar bill to sidestep the Park Board in 2009, but it got nowhere in the DFL-controlled Legislature. Of the current bill’s 26 authors, five are DFLers and none of the authors represent Minneapolis.
The bill was scheduled for an April 13 hearing in the house Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee. This issue of the Southwest Journal went to press before that meeting.
As of April 12, no companion bill had been introduced in the Minnesota Senate.
Reach Nick Halter at email@example.com.