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Residents wary as $2.1B dam project begins a long approval process

Developers of a $2.1 billion hydroelectric dam project say their vision will likely be years in the making, but nearby residents are already girding for a potential fight.

The stretch of land in Chanceford Township along the Susquehanna River has repeatedly been targeted for such developments. Most recently, the Massachusetts-based Free Flow Power Corp. dropped similar plans in 2011, citing opposition from nearby residents.

"It's going to take four years, and it's going to be at our risk," said William McMahon, one of the lead partners behind the latest proposal.

If the dam proposal gets a green light after a feasibility study, the project would see most of this area underwater as part of a reservoir.

York Energy Storage sought federal approval last month to launch a feasibility study for a $2.1 billion project across 1,000 acres in the township just south of Wrightsville. Their plans call for a dam roughly 1.9 miles long and 225 feet high along the river, creating a 600-acre upper reservoir through flooding and using the existing Lake Clarke as a lower reservoir.

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Long before any construction can begin, McMahon and his partners would have to secure land rights — possibly through eminent domain — from various property owners.

Most of the area where the dam and reservoir would be built is forested or farmland criss-crossed by country roads and dirt paths. One gravel path eventually gave way to a hard-packed dirt road winding through the densely wooded area. On one side there is a high berm separating the levels of the forest. On the other was a drop off guarded by a few feet of soil and trees.

Kohler Rd. in Felton on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.

Several nearby residents declined to comment publicly on the latest proposal but said they were familiar with it. They noted the legal battles that had already taken place and the ones that may be still to come.

Several environmental groups have already weighed in on the proposal.

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis said that four hydroelectric dams are already in place between York Haven and the Chesapeake Bay that create more than enough power without risking further environmental impacts.

"The energy that's going to be produced here, where it is going to go?" He said in a written comment. "Are we going to be using it here? No."

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For now, the dam project is waiting to hear back from the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. According to McMahon, the developers will need FERC approval of a preliminary permit just to conduct a feasibility study.

Celeste Miller, a FERC spokesperson, said the commission must first determine if the application is complete before any deliberation can begin. She did not have a specific timeline for the process.

Kohler Rd. in Felton on Tuesday, March 14, 2023.

The next steps, Miller said, would involve issuing public notices on the application, followed by a period of gathering public comment.

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If the application is approved, McMahon's company would have exclusive rights to complete all the studies necessary to prove to FERC that it's a viable project. Similarly, electric grid operator PJM (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland) would also need to sign off on the project.

McMahon said York Energy Storage LLC expects the feasibility study process to cost $8 million and take up to four years.

York Energy Storage LLC submitted a proposal to build a $2.1 billion hydroelectric dam in Chanceford Township.

If eventually approved, the $2.1 billion project would be funded through a combination of investors and federal loans, McMahon said. The company already received assurances from the federal government that they would qualify for low-interest loans, he added.

"We're not only doing this to be good engineers and good businesspeople," he said, "but we're doing it to be smart economically."

You can read the project's FERC application in its entirety below:

— Reach Matt Enright via email at or via Twitter at @Matthew_Enright. 

— Reach Noel Miller at or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.