SHENANDOAH – Today, the stripping pit at Shen Penn is filled with still water.
An investor from Bucks County is hoping one day to use it to generate electricity.
“It’s like a giant liquid battery,” Adam Rousselle, Doylestown, a principal in a firm called Merchant Hydro Developers LLC, said of his plans in a recent article at Philly.com.
Rousselle would like to build a hydroelectric plant with a pumped-storage system at Shen Penn and a second one in the vicinity.
In May, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission gave Merchant Hydro Developers preliminary permits to conduct two feasibility studies in Schuylkill County.
“He’s only allowed to study with a preliminary permit. If he wants to pursue it, he has to file a license application. That will involve the National Environmental Policy Act process,” Tim Looney, a civil engineer with FERC, said last week.
Hydroelectric plants use water to push turbines and make electricity. If Merchant Hydro moves forward, plants, reservoirs, dams and turbine generators will be built on the sites and connected to an electric grid, according to the proposals.
Pumped-storage systems generate power by releasing water from an upper reservoir. When excess power is available, water is pumped to refill the upper reservoir. Storage systems can also hold power generated from nearby wind farms.
Calls to Rousselle last week for more information on the project were not returned.
The two projects are:
■ The Shenandoah Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project.
“The Shenandoah project is the largest facility in Merchant Hydro’s portfolio, and one of the more promising,” according to Philly.com. “In Rousselle’s plan, the Shen Penn pit would function as the lower reservoir. The upper reservoir would be built on nearby Locust Ridge, where Avangrid Renewables operates two wind farms.”
The Shen Penn stripping pit, owned by Reading Anthracite, is a quarter-mile down a rocky path from the east end of Washington Street. In Shenandoah and partially in West Mahanoy Twp., its water is more than 120 feet deep in spots.
Merchant Hydro wants to build two upper reservoirs with a combined surface area of 470 acres and a 150-by-50-foot powerhouse containing two turbine-generator units with a total capacity of 405 megawatts.
“The project would have an annual generation of 1,181,385 megawatt-hours,” the preliminary permit says.
No local agencies filed comments on the proposal, but the U.S. Department of the Interior did.
“Interior noted that the upper reservoirs would be located immediately up-slope of Rattling Run, a Pennsylvania Class A Wild Trout Stream. Therefore, forest clearing and groundwater or surface water withdrawal to fill the proposed reservoirs could adversely affect hydrology and water quality in Rattling Run,” according to the preliminary permit.
■ The Rattlin Run Pumped Storage Hydroelectric Project near Shenandoah.
Merchant Hydro would like to build two new upper reservoirs with a combined surface area of 280 acres and a 150-by-50-foot powerhouse containing turbine-generator units with a total rated capacity of 300 megawatts.
“The estimated annual generation of the Rattlin Run Project would be 867,187 megawatt-hours,” the permit states.
The Mahanoy Twp. Authority expressed concerns about the project to FERC.
James J. Rhoades Jr., project manager for Alfred Benesch & Co., said the township asked the engineering firm to review and respond to the notice in regard to the impact on authority property and its operation as a public water supplier.
The authority has not taken a stance on the proposed project, he said, as it is in the preliminary permitting stage.
“We requested a meeting with the applicant, which we assume will happen in the next phase, the licensing phase,” Rhoades said. “MTA’s concerns are related to any negative impacts on their operation as a … permitted public water supply. Preliminary plans show the upper reservoir on MTA property, which would be taking land as well as source water from their system. We understand FERC will require the applicant to address these concerns.”
On Dec. 7, Rousselle registered Merchant Hydro Developers LLC with the Pennsylvania Department of State Corporations Bureau. But the department had little information about it.
“LLCs are not required to provide us with the name of its principals,” Wanda Murren, press secretary with the Department of State, said.
According to his page on linkedin.com, Rousselle has been president of Merchant Hydro Developers since February 2013. He was managing director of Merchant Transmission Developers LLC, Madison, Wisconsin, from November 2012 to May 2017.
Merchant Hydro has proposed several projects, according to FERC, which has given the firm three preliminary permits. The third is the Girard Estate Pump Storage Project in Northumberland County.
Meanwhile, FERC is reviewing 17 other applications Merchant Hydro submitted – 16 in Pennsylvania and one in New Jersey.