Hydro project proposed for Deer Creek
With energy production making headlines both locally and nationally, a Florida building contractor is hoping to tap into the current of Deer Creek, near Cass, to generate electricity.
A Preliminary Application Document filed March 13 with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission describes the Cass Hydro Energy Project proposed by Fatos and Luljeta Fidani, of St. Pete Beach, Florida.
The output of the project is small. While the FERC defines small energy projects as those generating up to five megawatts per hour, the Cass project will generate a modest 0.3 megawatts. But the Fidanis believe it will be a model of small-scale, clean energy production for others to follow.
"We strongly believe that the very roots of a strong energy independent nation are its own people," said Fatos Fidani. "Cass Hydro Energy Project, as small as it is, is a big step to the benefit of our national interest, as any dollar of energy spent here is one less dollar to foreign governments holding us ﾑenergy hostage.'"
Fidani estimated the value of the electricity produced from the project will be about $100,000 per year. If approved, the hydroelectric facility would cost about $400,000 to build, Fidani said.
The site is 200 feet south of West Virginia Route 66, 0.8 miles southeast of Cass on U.S. Forest Service land.
Rather than handle the construction and financing through his own construction firm, Fidani Form and Function, Fidani said CHEP would be "a family project." Fidani plans to sell his house in St. Pete Beach and relocate his family closer to Cass. Fidani also said he plans to do most of the construction himself, with the assistance of family and friends who have pledged to help.
Construction should take about 18-24 months, Fidani estimates.
With the sale of his home and the help of his family, Fidani said he intends to complete the project with no public assistance, aside from the use of Forest Service land.
"We hear a lot about government grants and subsidies on clean and renewable
energies just as [the] Cass Hydro Energy Project," said Fidani. "To my beliefs, freedom and opportunity is the best assistance. I know how to survive. All I need is the freedom to work under the laws and the Constitution of the United States of America."
While hydroelectric projects usually conjure images of large dams and impoundments, the CHEP proposes to divert about 50 percent of the flow from Deer Creek into a powerhouse equipped with two turbines and return that water downstream, around a hair-pin bend in the creek.
The paperwork filed with the FERC describes a "barrier of river boulders, sandstone and small riverbed material" used to "create a typical river pool, upstream, with the gradient of a riffle downstream." The structure will extend about seven feet above the riverbed and will not use a spillway, watergate or other forms of flow control, the document states.
The intake to the powerhouse will be screened to keep fish and macroinvertibrates larger than 1/4-inch from being drawn into the turbines, said Fidani.
The powerhouse itself will be the largest and most noticeable part of the project, according to the proposal. The 1500-square-foot building will house the turbines, generators, transformers and other equipment necessary to produce electricity from the flow of Deer Creek.
As much as possible under applicable building codes, the 66x22-foot structure will be made to "resemble features of a recreational residence" the proposal states.
While Fidani said he anticipates the CHEP will be able to support his family, he said it also has a deeply personal connection to his childhood in the 1960s and 70s under the oppressive communist regime of Albania, in eastern Europe.
"I was born in a small, remote town without electricity," said Fidani. "We had a stream running through town. I knew they could make electricity out of water, but until then, I had to do my homework only on daylight, or under a flickering
candle. I can't forget the day they started building a small powerhouse."
Between 1975 and 1985, Fidani said he worked as a laborer on two small-scale hydro projects of 0.01 and 0.5 megawatts.
In June of 1990, as Albania's government was on the brink of collapse, Fidani said he escaped from Albania and crossed into Greece. He was subsequently granted political asylum in the United States through the American embassy in Athens.
It has been some 40 years since Fidani's memory of the powerhouse that was built near his home town, but he said his fascination with and passion about creating electricity from the movement of water has not run out.
Fidani said he does not have any previous ties to Pocahontas County. He began looking for suitable sites for such a project in Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina using computer-generated maps from Google Earth.
His search criteria for a site included year-round rainfall and proximity to power transmission lines and roads. To keep the cost of the project down, Fidani also considered whether or not the land was Federally owned, the size of the stream, and whether a tunnel would be required to return water back to the stream.
Once potential sites were selected, Fidani said he made three trips from Florida to make evaluations on the ground.
Fidani said one of the most attractive features of the site along Deer Creek is the way in which the stream doubles back on itself, removing the need for a costly tunnel. The creek's 50-foot change in elevation at the location also eliminates the economic and environmental cost of a dam, said Fidani.
Approval from the FERC would only be the first regulatory hurdle Fidani's Cass Hydro Energy Project would need to overcome.
The project would also be subject to permit approval from U.S. Forest Service, National Environmental Policy Act clearance, and approval by the West Virginia Public Service Commission. It may also be subject to scrutiny under the Pocahontas County Floodplain ordinance.
Jack Tribble, District Ranger for the Greenbrier District of the Monongahela National Forest, said he had only just received a copy of the proposal this week.
"It's new to us," said Tribble. "We haven't seen any special use permit applications yet."
To his knowledge, a hydroelectric project would be a first on any Forest Service lands, Tribble said.
Mike Holstine, Business Manager for the nearby National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, said the project may be subject to evaluation under the West Virginia Astronomy Zoning Act, which regulates all sources of electrical interference within a 10-mile radius of the NRAO.
Holstine said he doubted the hydro project would affect the observatory's radio telescopes. Previous evaluations of wind turbine projects in the region found those electrical generation facilities presented no interference with NRAO's equipment, he said.
The observatory is also protected by the National Radio Quiet Zone, but Holstine explained that its regulations only apply to "fixed-base, licensed transmitters."
The Preliminary Application Document states that a yet-to-be-scheduled public meeting will be announced in The Pocahontas Times with at least two-weeks notice.
The Preliminary Application Document can be seen at the Green Bank Public Library or at the Pocahontas County Courthouse.
You can also download the document HERE.
Drew Tanner may be contacted at email@example.com