Study to begin on possible Tenn-Tom hyroelectric plant


Devaris Lee and Marchello Harris fish last week near the Stennis Lock and Dam. At their left is Harris’s stepson, Jimmy McGowan, 3. The group is from Columbus.

Devaris Lee and Marchello Harris fish last week near the Stennis Lock and Dam. At their left is Harris’s stepson, Jimmy McGowan, 3. The group is from Columbus. Photo by: Kelly Tippett/Dispatch Staff




JACKSON - The federal government has given a Utah-based company permission to study the feasibility of operating a small hydroelectric plant at the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway''s Stennis Lock and Dam near Columbus.


Symbiotics received the preliminary permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to assess the TTW site and decide whether to go forward in seeking a FERC license.


The permit issued in September doesn''t authorize construction, but it gives the green light for the company to take up to three years to study the environmental and financial impact of running the hydropower facility.



"We''re still thinking about it and what it has and what issues that can be anticipated and whether the value of the energy is sufficient to cover the costs of the project," said Dave Boyter, Symbiotics'' director of engineering and operations.


He said it''s still in the "pre-preliminary" phase of a lengthy process that could take about five years before a license is issued.


If the facility is built, Symbiotics would sell water-generated electricity produced from a powerhouse and three turbine-generators at the Stennis Dam.


Estimated to cost about $25 million, the TTW hydropower project is among at least 40 the company had on the drawing board last year to consider adding to its current inventory of facilities at 10 river dams and waterfalls in the United States.


FERC is responsible for licensing the construction and operations of all hydroelectric facilities in the country. The agency notified the public in May 2008 of Symbiotics'' plans for the Stennis Dam.


The dam and Tenn-Tom Waterway are operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The use of the 234-mile canal is promoted by the Columbus-based Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway Development Authority. Both agencies support Symbiotics'' plans.


"The TTWDA does not oppose such projects as long as it does not interfere with the navigability of the waterway," said TTWDA Administrator Mike Tagert.


"Also, the company''s interest is another indication and benefit of having constructed the waterway. Additionally, only healthy river systems are viable candidates for such plants, so this is a real testament to the health of this ecosystem."


The hydropower facility would operate in a run-of-river mode using water-driven turbines with spinning blades generating electricity conveyed through a two-mile transmission line to the local utility''s distribution system.


FERC sees many benefits from water-generated electricity.


"Hydropower is an important component of the nation''s energy portfolio and supports efficient, competitive electric markets by providing low-cost energy reserves and ancillary services," states the agency''s Web site:


"Hydropower projects also provide other public benefits, such as increased water supply, recreation, economic development and flood control, while minimizing adverse impacts on environmental resources."


Symbiotics is based in Utah and also has offices in Idaho, Oregon and Texas. It owns or operates hydropower facilities in the western United States and provides environmental and engineering services for other companies.


It has submitted to FERC more than 280 applications for preliminary hydropower permits - the most ever by one company - according to the company''s Web site:


"Since 2001, we have been developing low-impact hydroelectric projects to meet the growing demand for renewable energy while preserving a healthy environment."


While FERC has permitted Symbiotics to operate the 10 hydroelectric-generating facilities it now has, the federal agency rejected at least two company-proposed projects in Idaho because they would hurt the scenic Snake River''s environment.


According to federal court records, Symbiotics lost its appeal of FERC''s decision, which was based on a variety of environmental concerns, including the hydro plant''s adverse impact on trout fishing, whitewater boating and wildlife populations.


The TTW Stennis Dam project is among 382 on FERC''s list of permitted hydropower feasibility studies by various developers throughout the country. Also listed are projects for the Tenn-Tom''s Bevill and Heflin dams in Alabama.





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