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Locals eye return to hydropower

  • Lori Barg, the President of Contoocook Hydro, checks on her hydro-electric plant located in Contoocook. Barg also owns a plant located in Antrim and is building another in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Lori Barg, the President of Contoocook Hydro, checks on her hydro-electric plant located in Contoocook. Barg also owns a plant located in Antrim and is building another in Peterborough. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Lori Barg, the president of Contoocook Hydro, checks on her hydroelectric plant located in Contoocook. Barg also owns a plant located in Antrim and is building another in Peterborough. Staff photo by Ashley Saari

  • Lori Barg, the President of Contoocook Hydro, checks on her hydro-electric plant located in Contoocook. Barg also owns a plant located in Antrim and is building another in Peterborough. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Lori Barg, the President of Contoocook Hydro, checks on her hydro-electric plant located in Contoocook. Barg also owns a plant located in Antrim and is building another in Peterborough. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Ashley Saari—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript



Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 10, 2018 6:37PM

New England is built around rivers, the mighty energy producer that powered early mills and attracted workers to populate towns. 

Today hydropower lags behind other renewable energy sources when it comes to providing power to the state, but remains a part of that energy puzzle. Including in Antrim, and soon to be in Peterborough.

Lori Barg, who owns the Antrim plant, as well as one in Contoocook, said in a recent interview with the Ledger-Transcript that there are two reasons that smaller projects like hers aren’t more common in New Hampshire, where flowing water is plentiful.

One, she said, is the cost. 

“There is a lack of affordable equipment for operations of a smaller size, so you generally need something of a larger scale to make it worth your while,” said Barg.

The cost to develop hydroelectric systems is about $2,500 per kilowatt, and that price doesn’t differ much based on the system you’re building. So, while systems that produce less kilowatts per hour of energy might be cheaper, they also provide less return on investment in the long run.

Two, is that regulation of hydroelectric doesn’t differentiate based on size, and smaller operations have to go through the same amount of permitting and paperwork – generally making it not worth the effort for most small developers, said Barg.

But that lack leaves a potentially huge prospective source of power untapped.

According to the Energy Information Administration, New Hampshire still uses nuclear power most by a large margin – about 930,000 Megawatts per hour, almost twice as much as the next closest energy source, natural gas, at 481,000 Megawatts per hour. 

Of the renewable energy New Hampshire uses, however, hydroelectric makes up about 89,000 Megawatts per hour. In comparison, the other renewable options produce about 168,000 Megawatts per hour.

Barg said she’d like to see that number rise.

“There are 80,000 unpowered dams in the United States,” said Barg. 

Five thousand of those, right here in New Hampshire.

Now, not all of those dams are guaranteed to have hydroelectric potential, said Barg. She doesn’t have any numbers for how many in New Hampshire might have that potential, but in neighboring Vermont, about one-fourth of the state’s 1,200 dams have been found to be suitable for hydroelectric power. If that same statistic held true for New Hampshire, between 500 and 600 dams have enough water flow to produce power.

And its a shame not to put it to use, said Barg.

“Hydro power is carbon free, local, and economically important because it can’t be outsourced,” said Barg. “The wind doesn’t always blow, and the sun doesn’t always shine, but water is always flowing.”

Barg is currently working on the equipment issue, currently patenting a new hydroelectric technology that has less maintenance and operation cost, fewer parts that could break, and avoids expensive engineering costs by making the technology more one-size fits all. 

The Antrim dam, which is located at Steele’s Pond, was built by Barg, and while not utilizing the entirety of her new technology, but having some of the same aspects, and has seen a huge boost in efficiency just through her additional monitoring of the site. In the past, the dam at Steele’s Pond produced about 1.8 million kilowatt hours of energy per year. This past year, under Barg’s management, the same site produced 3.2 million kilowatt hours.

She hopes for a similar boost or more in proficiency at the Bell Mill dam in Peterborough. Earlier this year, Barg attempted to begin work on the dam, which needed repairs before hydropower could operate there, but became embattled when one of the two owners of the dam objected to what they alleged were Barg’s workers trespassing on her property and 

However, after public hearings on the issue, the Peterborough Select Board determined that the dam’s condition required repairs. They ordered one of the dam's owners, Brenda Berry, who petitioned them to determine the state of the dam, to pay for those repairs. Barg had already agreed to make those repairs as part of her agreement with Berry to access the dam for hydroelectric power.

With repairs done on the dam, she hopes to install a pilot of her new hydroelectric technology, and eke out as many as 700,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year from the site, which had previously averaged about 500,000 kilowatt hours annually. She’s also currently seeking out other sites to pilot her system.

“How you can support infrastructure is to make it economically viable,” said Barg, who hopes that the additional energy boost might be enough to make smaller sites more attractive for investors.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.