Proposed $2.1B hydroelectric dam hits first snag with federal regulators

Noel Miller
York Dispatch

Developers of a proposed $2.1 billion hydroelectric dam project have hit an initial roadblock in their long march toward regulatory approval — which could be years in the making.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which will consider York Energy Storage's request for a preliminary permit to conduct a feasibility study, sent the application back for more information.

At issue, according to FERC, was the proposal's use of Lake Clarke as a lower reservoir. That sets up a potential conflict because the existing Safe Harbor Dam's hydroelectric power station already uses the lake.

“The commission rejects preliminary permit applications for project works that would use all or part of resources that are currently held under existing licenses or would substantially alter or interfere with the operation of existing licensed projects,” FERC wrote, in its response to York Energy Storage's application.

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YES's proposal calls 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. The project would include securing rights for additional land along the Susquehanna River, possibly through eminent domain.

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

William McMahon, one of the lead partners behind the proposal, said the developers of the new hydroelectric dam did reach out to Safe Harbor Water Power Corp. to seek its approval. That company, in turn, sought additional information before a final decision could be made.

Meanwhile, YES sought an extension from FERC through at least June 8 to allow the process to play out.

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If the new dam developers don't get approval from Safe Harbor, the preliminary permit application is at risk of rejection, according to FERC documents. The only other way to get approval without Safe Harbor's involvement would be to justify the use of Lake Clarke and prove that the usage would not impede Safe Harbor Dam operations.

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.

FERC's hesitance did not surprise several local officials familiar with the site's history.

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

Lower Susquehanna Riverkeeper Ted Evgeniadis said that four hydroelectric dams already in place between York Haven and the Chesapeake Bay 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 asked “Are we going to be using it here? No.”

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The developers' initial application is only the first step in a much longer process.

If approved by FERC, McMahon’s company would have exclusive rights to complete all the studies necessary to prove to the regulatory authority that its plan is viable. YES would also need to get electric grid operator PJM (Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland) to sign off on the project.

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McMahon said the $2.1 billion project would be funded through a combination of private investors and federal loans if those approvals are lined up. The company has already received assurances from the federal government that it would qualify for low-interest loans, he said.

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

— Reach Noel Miller at NMiller3@yorkdispatch.com or via Twitter at @TheNoelM.