View Case Record, M-17-712
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Comment on PUC Docket Number E-002/M-17-712
Topic: Should the Commission take any action on the Crown Hydro RDF grant contract (AH-01) under Minnesota Laws 2017, Chapter 94, Article 10, Section 29 or other authority?
The Commission should terminate the Renewable Development Fund (RDF) grant to Crown Hydro, LLC and re-allocate any and all “expired” and / or unspent funds to other projects.
The Crown Hydro project has been in the “planning” stage since Aug. 5, 1991 when it applied for a preliminary permit to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Such permit was issued by FERC on Jan. 1, 1992. On Mar. 19, 1999, FERC issued a license to Crown Hydro LLC to construct a powerhouse in the basement of the Crown Roller Mill building near the St. Anthony Falls and the US Army Corps of Engineers Upper St. Anthony Falls Lock and Dam.
Since the license was issued in 1999, virtually no progress has been made and no construction has been started to build a hydro plant. Additionally, since Mar. 19, 1999, the location of the proposed hydro plant has changed three times.
The proposed hydro project currently being pursued by Crown Hydro in their April 30, 2015 application for license amendment bears no resemblance to the concept, scope or location that was licensed by FERC in March 1999. It is, as FERC has pointed out in numerous letters over the past many years, a new project, for which an amendment to the license is inappropriate. It is essentially a different project than the one analyzed in the 1990s and should require a new technical, engineering and environmental analysis.
Crown’s attempt to disguise their new proposal by claiming that they intend to “retain most of the project components as-licensed” and “retain most of the as-licensed project design” and merely move the project site north approximately 250 feet to property owned by the Corps of Engineers is refuted in Crown’s own Application for License Amendment, Exhibit A, Project Description and Proposed Modifications, dated April 30, 2015, which is quoted as follows [boldface emphasis added]:
• A new intake structure – extending approximately 25 feet-upstream of the powerhouse, containing two 14-feet tall by 16-feet wide trash racks with 3-inch clear spacing to limit fish entrainment and impingement.
• Two new 8.5-foot diameter turbine penstocks (pipes) 50 feet in length conveying water to the turbines.
• Two new vertical axial flow turbine units ….
• Two new generators connected to the turbines by a 20-foot long direct vertical shaft.
• Two new discharge draft tubes to convey water from the turbines to the new tailrace tunnel.
• A new 14-foot wide by 10-foot tall tailrace tunnel. The tunnel expands to 16-footwide and 14-foot tall on the downstream side after the Stone Arch Bridge to limit flow velocities entering the river. The total length of the new tailrace tunnel is 930 feet.
• A new underground transmission line approximately 700 feet in length will connect the Project to the Xcel grid at Portland Avenue.
• The powerhouse [also a new structure] would be approximately 88-feet by 42-feet, and is proposed to be constructed in the Corps of Engineers parking lot adjacent to the Upper St. Anthony Lock and extend about 17-feet above the parking lot.
The number of new aspects of the project now being proposed provides sufficient evidence that this is a new project, and an amendment to the existing license is not appropriate.
In addition to these problems with the application, there are several other aspects of the proposal that are not addressed.
• The new tailrace tunnel being proposed and the new underground transmission line intended to connect the Project to the Xcel grid will encroach on property owned or controlled by easement by the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board. The transmission line, in particular, will have to cross through MPRB’s Mill Ruins Park to reach Portland Avenue. This will require excavation of historic archaeological ruins and also conflicts with the MPRB’s current WaterWorks Park project design, construction of which has begun. The intended connection point with the Xcel grid, likewise, has not been specified, making it impossible to evaluate fully the intended route of the underground line.
The Crown Hydro project, which has been on the drawing board since at least 1991, is proposed for a location in an area that has undergone a significant transformation since the original license was issued in March 1999. Much of the data and assumptions given in the original application were based on conditions that existed in the 1994 – 1997 time frame.
Much has changed since then. The area which once consisted of abandoned mill buildings, former rail yards, and surface parking lots is now largely residential (condos, lofts and apartment buildings), small businesses and parkland. It is also home to a major regional theater—the Guthrie Theater—that opened in June 2006. A new 62,000 sq. ft. American Academy of Neurology headquarters, built at a cost of $14,200,000, opened in the neighborhood in April 2012. The residential population in the Mill District has more than doubled from 2000 to 2013, and the area now consists mainly of multi-unit condominiums and apartments. In 2016, approximately 2.5 million people visited the area to view the St. Anthony Falls, walk across the Stone Arch Bridge, and enjoy the historic and natural surroundings of the Mill District and parks located at either end of the Stone Arch Bridge and next to the Guthrie Theater.
Further complicating any effort to construct a hydro project in the currently proposed location is the fact that the Minneapolis Park & Recreation Board in 2016 began construction of a new Water Works Park on Park Board land just South of the location where Crown now proposes to build a hydro plant. The first phase of the new park, an extension on the existing Mill Ruins Park complex, is scheduled for completion in mid-2019, with Phase II construction to commence in 2021.
Construction of a hydroelectric plant in the midst of such an area simply is no longer a good fit.
Numerous federal, state, and local agencies as well as concerned citizens of the area, have written to FERC urging them to terminate Crown Hydro’s license and not to issue any amendments to license Number P-11175. Any amendment application should be rejected as inappropriate based on the fact that the project is not, as claimed, merely a relocation of the original as-licensed project. It is simply the wrong project, at the wrong time, in the wrong location.
FERC has indicated on multiple occasions (once in 2011, twice in 2012, and again in 2013), the intent to terminate the existing Crown Hydro license and grant no further extensions or delays. The record of this project on file at FERC since 1991 shows a pattern of Crown’s repeated failure to comply with numerous directives and requests from FERC. The files also contain comments and objections to the project from the City of Minneapolis, Corps of Engineers, Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board, Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Natural Resources, the U.S. Department of the Interior, as well as dozens of individual citizens and civic organizations. Many of the objections and questions posed in these communications have not been addressed by Crown. Crown Hydro has repeatedly ignored and failed to address multiple concerns raised about the proposed project for years.
I provide this background simply to underscore the case for terminating the RDF grant to Crown Hydro LLC. As documented above and in FERC’s own files (which the MN PUC may access), the project has made virtually no progress aside from issuing revisions to schedules and generally obfuscating the fact that the project has gone nowhere since 1999 and is unlikely to ever be constructed. Any funds that have been languishing in some account earmarked for this project are unlikely to be used in any constructive way for the purpose intended by Minnesota Public Utilities Commission.
I again request that the Commission immediately terminate the Renewable Development Fund (RDF) grant to Crown Hydro, LLC and re-allocate any and all “expired” and / or unspent funds to other projects.
Should the PUC take action related to the Crown Hydro RDF grant?
If I read the September 13 letter from Bria Shea to the PUC correctly-the 30 day timeline and MN law Chapter 94, Article 10, Section 29 does not apply to Crown Hydro because they say they have two reasons for not obeying the law. The law does not define construction, but it is clear that there is not site control, proper permits to proceed, and no construction at the site of their proposed location. I don't think that the law was written to include an abstract or fictitious concept of construction. The second reason for a purported exemption to state law is that the RDF funding was for reimbursements. This is not recorded in any public documents that I can find. I have correspondence from Daniel P. Wolfe saying that funds were given in the first round for cash flow. The other issue is that in court documents about liens and loans related to possession and location of the purchased turbines for this project, there was a substantial cash loan with the turbines as collateral. If Crown Hydro is liquidating the assets from its initial funding, those funds should go back to the RDF fund and other projects.