Nashua’s hydro plans flow forward

NASHUA – Both the Jackson Mills and Mine Falls hydroelectric facilities on the Nashua River are about 35 years old – and are now set for $6.2 million worth of improvements.

Tuesday, Board of Aldermen members approved these repairs by passing Resolution 142, which authorizes bonds not to exceed $6.2 million for these improvements. The resolution was passed by a unanimous roll call vote, which received 15 yays, as well as two other hydro-related resolutions aiming to transfer funds.

“For the FY 2020 budget, we budgeted $1.2 million in revenue for hydro,” Director of Community Development Sarah Marchant said.

Although aging infrastructure remains a constant battle, it is expected that once the work is complete, these facilities will last another 30 years.

The Jackson facility’s turbine has been down twice since it was returned to the city in 2015, once for about three months and again for six months. Nonetheless, Jackson Mills is a one-megawatt facility that has an exemption from federal licensing. Mine Falls, on the other hand, is a three-megawatt facility and does not have a license exemption.

However, located in the heart of downtown, Jackson Mills stands out as a unique facility in that there is no other hydro facility anywhere in the world that is exactly like it.

There is a custom-made turbine there at the moment, although a new turbine is needed. About $4 million of the bond will be for this new turbine, including the purchase, engineering, fabrication and installation.

In any event, fish ladder improvements will also be pulled together in this situation, and the goal will be to continue running until this is all fabricated. The process will take about 18 months from the time officials pick something, to design, fabrication and installation.

“We will do the install in the low-flow months, which tends to be August, September, to make sure we’re not losing a lot of revenue,” Marchant said.

However, the Mine Falls facility brings in much more revenue for Nashua. So far this year, that facility is at $600,000, but more could come in because of a delay. Nonetheless, one of the two turbines there is currently offline. The plan there is to do a complete rehabilitation of one of the two turbines, with associated repairs while it is offline. Marchant said Mine Falls is expected to be back online in September.

The current 40-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license for the Mine Falls project expires at the end of July 2023. The relicensing process began in August 2018 and continues through 2023.

However, there are additional measures that must be taken, with nine studies being requested by FERC and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire Fish and Game Department and New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services. A request for proposal (RFP) has been posted. The plan is to bring on a specialist firm to help the city conduct these studies.

Marchant said the city would be getting professional staff on board to help initiate studies, probably later this season and the next. She said studies are done in spring and summer because a lot of the studies deal with fish migration, which happens in spring and fall.

Moreover, the Board of Aldermen also voted on two other resolutions relative to the hydroelectric facilities Tuesday night. One of those is Resolution 152, which appropriates $110,000 of unanticipated revenue from hydroelectric power generation and provides additional funding to pay for additional costs associated with the city’s dam operations and maintenance contract with Essex Power. The board passed that resolution by a unanimous roll call vote receiving 15 yays.

The other agenda item is Resolution 19-153, which appropriates $200,000 of unanticipated revenue from hydroelectric power generation and replenishes funds in the Hydropower Reserve Fund. The board passed that resolution, again with a unanimous roll call vote receiving 15 yays.

Adam Urquhart may be contacted at 594-1206, or at aurquhart@nashuatelegraph.com.