By Heather Clower
The Parsons Advocate
At the last commission meeting, County Planner Dennis Filler came forth with an application for a preliminary permit to study the effectiveness of a pump storage hydro project in our area. Since that time, Tim Williamson, agent with FreedomWorks, LLC out of Harpers Ferry, WV, reached out to The Parsons Advocate to explain further his desires to bring infrastructure to our area.
Williamson is a veteran project developer with thirty five years experience within public and private sectors, government operations, and energy management. He has successfully completed over $3 billion in major projects for the U.S. Federal Government and private sector. He serves as CEO for FedP3, LLC, MBA consulting group, as well as FreedomWorks, LLC, which was founded in 2007 to support unique project opportunities that catalyze and accelerate the global energy transition. Williamson has an impressive resume filling roles including Deputy Director at the U.S. Department of State and the Bureau of Energy Resources to name a few. While working within these entities, he managed a $310 million annual construction program for twenty three years before retiring in 2017.
This is not the first time a pump storage hydroelectric project has been proposed to call Tucker County home. In April of 1977 the Federal Power Commission issued a license to three subsidiaries of the Allegheny Power System, including Monongahela Power, Potomac Edison, and West Penn. The goal was to authorize construction of a 1,025 megawatt plant on the Blackwater River and Reed Creek. After almost twenty three years and filing for numerous extensions, dealing with multiple lawsuits and interventions by the local organizations, the project permit was surrendered back to the FERC in March of 2000. This project was then pitched in Bath County, Virginia, which has since become a beautiful asset and employer to locals in that community.
Williamson provided the following information for public release in addition to our interview. He said, “The objective of the proposed Big Run 1 gigawatt rated-power Pump Storage Hydro Project (Big Run PSH) is to create 500 megawatts of 100% renewable energy derived storage and generation, 24 hours per day, 365 days of each year, semi-continuous for the next 50 years”. Williamson continued, “FreedomWorks, LLC is exploring public sentiment and comments prior to a permit application request to the U.S. Forest Service to study the feasibility of the proposed energy project. If local sentiment appears generally supportive, and a study permit is approved by the Forest Service, the study period is estimated to last approximately two years before a final report can be written”. The study period for this project is set for two years with a three year construction time frame. The total estimated cost for this project is $1.2 billion.
When asked how the potential of a massive project like this came to the mountains of Tucker County, Williamson informed this was the only place in West Virginia this project could potentially be constructed and be successful. He further explained there are forty four peaks in West Virginia that are higher than one thousand feet in elevation. There has to be enough drop in elevation to generate enough energy (greater than 1 gigawatt) to make this project feasible, hence the two year study period.
In summary the project is there will be two reservoir type lakes, much like the one at Mt. Storm although deeper, approximately twelve hundred acres in size, holding around one hundred and fifteen thousand acre-feet of water. When the water is released from the upper reservoir, it will fall through pipes turning potential energy into kinetic energy. These pipes will be equipped with turbines that spin as the water flows past that will put this energy into a generator. The pump system will be on a closed loop that once the lower reservoir is initially charged from the Cheat River, it will be pumped to the upper reservoir, which will be charged by solar and air energy. To offset evaporation, well water will be used as needed. “This is a very efficient way to store energy”, suggested Williamson. He also stated this facility will be modeled after a similar reservoir system in Switzerland which has been able to store approximately forty gigawatt-hours worth of energy just from water flow. To put this in perspective, it takes 431 utility-scaled wind turbines to produce 1 gigawatt of energy.
The majority of the property being considered for this project is owned by Western Pocahontas Properties and the United States (The Monongahela National Forest). They will maintain ownership of this land and will operate on a long term lease agreement. Some of the acreage will have to be logged to prevent the wood from decaying in the lakes and emitting methane gas. Williamson insisted there would be as little disturbances as possible throughout the construction phase, if it proves feasible. According to Williamson, the plan is to avoid Blackwater Canyon all together to be good stewards of the land and utilizing pre-existing roadways. When asked about the benefits to the locals of the community, Williamson has a list of benefits for the county. Obviously there will be the benefits of employing local logging crews and will stimulate the lumber economy, but there is a potential for between two hundred and fifty to three hundred and fifty construction workers to be hired for this process. Once the plant is up and running, there will be approximately fifty positions available, half being for those with engineering and similar backgrounds, and others for daily operations and service jobs to support the plant. “We will be doing as much local hiring as we possibly can to fulfill that business ethic role”, he assured.
Another benefit is the energy being produced that goes into the local grid. “We are going to tie into the substation up in Thomas, so the energy from the facility will actually power the local grid”, he explained. “The project wants to see good police force, fire departments, and ambulance services with good response times, so we would be inclined to help spruce up those services in the county right away for our own purposes alone, but it would help the county in the process”, Williamson continued. The community could also see a stipend from their taxes as a result of this new facility as well. He used Alaska as an example where everybody gets a cut from their energy sources being located in their area. As we know, Mount Storm Lake can be used for recreational purposes. Williamson explained these particular reservoirs would have to be evaluated by the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) to be determined if this could be a possibility as well, aiding in our tourism attractions. “People will benefit directly from this being in their backyards”, he reassured. “If the people don’t want this, I can’t do it”, he commented. He is also very concerned about the opinions from the locals on this project. “Without local support it’s never going to happen. This whole thing hinges on local community benefiting from it, if they don’t benefit from it it’s not going to happen”, he stated.
Williamson plans to come to the area several times and would like to meet with interested parties and local entities interested in learning more or voicing their opinions and concerns about this potential project coming to Tucker County. The Parsons Advocate will be following this project every step along the way to aid in keeping the community informed.