Seneca Nation, FirstEnergy battle over Pa. pumped storage facility

The Seneca Nation of Indians told the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it is looking at adding a conventional hydropower component to the existing Seneca Pumped Storage Project in Pennsylvania.

Seneca Nation on July 3 submitted to FERC its Preliminary Licensing Proposal (PLP) for the Seneca Pumped Storage Project (SPSP). The Seneca Nation is using the Integrated Licensing Process (ILP) to develop the license application under the commission’s regulations. The current license expires Nov. 30, 2015.

Also at the same time, an affiliate of FirstEnergy (NYSE: FE) has filed a competing application for license renewal. The tribe and FirstEnergy are in a dispute over which party actually controls the project, which is on tribal lands.

The Seneca Project is a pumped‐storage facility with an authorized production capacity of 451.8 MW. The project uses the Allegheny Reservoir, formed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Kinzua Dam on the Allegheny River, as its lower reservoir. It also includes an upper reservoir, two reversible pump‐turbine generator units, one conventional turbine‐generator unit, associated water intakes, conduits, and discharge facilities, a powerhouse, transmission lines, and some of the lands affected by these facilities.

The Seneca Nation, within this application, proposes three improvements to the existing project. The first improvement will optimize SPSP operations, the second increases upper reservoir active storage, and the third includes construction of a conventional hydropower plant at Kinzua Dam. Two conventional hydropower options are under consideration: an upstream generation option and a downstream power plant option.

Changes would increase the existing project’s peak power output

Improvements to the project’s current operational protocol may increase peak power generation. The Seneca Nation proposes a combination of operational rules maximizing peak power generation while maintaining Corps‐prescribed Allegheny River flow rates. The following rules are implemented in sequential order as a preferential hierarchy:

  • Discharge through Unit 3 immediately before pumping operations for startup energy and synchronization purposes.
  • Maximize Unit 2 discharge to Allegheny River. This strategy is accomplished by displacing Unit 1, Unit 3, and Kinzua Dam discharges to Unit 2.
  • Maximize discharge through Unit 3 to the River by reducing Unit 1 and Kinzua Dam discharge rates.
  • Maximize discharge through Units 1 and 2 to the Allegheny Reservoir.

Increased generation from these options primarily results from increased turbine head potential by maximizing discharge to Allegheny River. In addition, increasing pumping and generation flow rates has the potential to increase annual power generation. The actual power generation increase is dependent upon economic considerations.

The Seneca Nation also proposes to increase the upper reservoir operating volume by increasing the maximum stage by one foot. This proposal will yield an additional 110 ac‐ft available for generation per day. Assuming this volume will be utilized by Unit 2 generating to Allegheny River and that Unit 2 is operational 328 days per year, this proposal will provide an additional 26.5 MWh per year.

The proposed upstream conventional hydropower plant consists of a matrix‐type turbine module attached on the upstream face of the dam at the entrance to each existing lower sluiceway. Each turbine module will have a 3.44 MW capacity, thus yielding a total capacity of 20.6 MW for the six modules.

The proposed downstream conventional plant at Kinzua Dam will receive water via an intake tower in the reservoir and then through a 21 foot in diameter steel‐lined tunnel. The proposed intake tower will allow selective withdrawal to accommodate Corps seasonal water temperature release operations which are influenced by thermal stratification in Allegheny Reservoir. Each of the four vertical Francis turbines will have a rated flow of 1,250 cfs (total 5,000 cfs) at 115 feet of head and will operate at 163 rpm. Each unit will produce 11.5 MW for a total station capacity of 46 MW.

Conventional hydropower generation would operate in a run‐of‐reservoir mode, meaning that it will only utilize Corps‐regulated releases from Kinzua Dam. This operational arrangement will subordinate conventional hydropower generation to Corps operation of Kinzua Dam and to the operation of the SPSP.

FirstEnergy, tribe in a dispute over property rights

FirstEnergy Generation LLC filed a similar application with FERC, also on July 3, for the relicensing and possible expansion of what it called the Kinzua Pumped Storage Project, which has the same FERC license number (No. 2280) as the Seneca Nation facility. The Seneca Nation references FirstEnergy in its application when it comes to data related to its project, but doesn’t explain the reasons for the two applications.

A FirstEnergy spokesperson on July 8 said in an e-mail to GenerationHub about the dual applications: “FirstEnergy Generation Corp., and predecessor FirstEnergy companies, have been the sole owner and operator of the 451-megawatt Kinzua Pumped-Storage Hydro Project in Warren Pa. since it began commercial operations in 1970. FirstEnergy owns the power plant itself, the upper reservoir and the equipment to pump the water up to the reservoir. As you stated, the dam is owned by the Army Corps of Engineers. Because of our strong operating record, we have notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) of our intent to relicense the plant. The Seneca Nation of Indians (SNI) also notified FERC of its interest in obtaining the operating license for the facility.”

Said the Seneca Nation in a March 7 statement posted to its website: “FirstEnergy, the operator of the Seneca Pumped Storage Project near the Kinzua Dam in northwestern Pennsylvania, lacks the necessary property rights to successfully operate the Project, the Seneca Nation of Indians asserted in an official submission filed on Monday with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The Seneca Nation made this submission in connection with the relicensing proceedings before the federal agency for the hydropower generation project. The Seneca Nation and FirstEnergy are both competing for the federal license to run the facility.”

In connection with its efforts to regain the federal license, FirstEnergy is seeking to condemn the Seneca Nation’s sovereign land rights as part of the regulatory process, the tribe said. Under the Seneca Nation’s 1794 Treaty of Canandaigua, its lands are protected and not subject to ordinary condemnation for power development, the tribe added. The original recipient of the project’s license in the 1960s, and now FirstEnergy as its successor, did not seek or obtain from the Seneca Nation the property rights necessary for its operation, the tribe said.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.