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Talks pour new hope into Middlebury hydro project

MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury selectboard has decided to reopen its negotiations with Anders Holm as he seeks to re-establish a hydroelectricity operation at the Otter Creek falls.
Holms’ long running plans to construct a 1.6-megawatt hydro turbine near the falls has been at a standstill for more than two years. Holms owns the building at 56 Main St., right next to the picturesque falls. Operating as Middlebury Electric Co., he wants to install a water turbine to generate electricity from the swiftly flowing water that runs underneath his building.
Jeremy Rathbun, a leader of the Middlebury Energy Committee, told the Middlebury selectboard on Tuesday, Nov. 25, that he and his colleagues met with Holm on Nov. 12 to discuss the future of his project. It’s a project that has been at a standstill in wake of some disagreements over water/property rights and the town’s request of additional information.
Rathbun, an engineer, said he has reviewed the schematics, permitting documents and business plan associated with Holm’s project and believes there is enough information to address many of the town’s concerns.
“It looks like some great back work has been done on this project,” Rathbun said, theorizing that some of the pertinent information did not find its way to town officials back in 2012. “I wonder if there was some sort of disconnect, historically, about it.”
Based on its meeting last month with Holm, the Energy Committee unanimously recommended that the board reopen talks with Holm.
“We believe this project has merit and it’s the opinion of the Energy Committee that the town should re-enter negotiations with Anders to try to bring a project at the upper falls to fruition,” Rathbun said. “We definitely want to support it going forward, however we can.”
Rathbun noted Middlebury’s goal of deriving 20 percent of its energy through renewables by the year 2025.
“If you are looking to achieve that in a little over 11 years, another hydro project would go a long way to helping with that goal,” he said.
There was a hydroelectric operation at the Otter Creek falls from 1890 to 1966, according o Rathbun. In 1980, Central Vermont Public Service Corp. (now merged into Green Mountain Power) pitched a hydro project that ultimately did not advance. It was in 2007 that Holm began his quest for water power in that area.
The Middlebury selectboard this past Tuesday unanimously agreed to revisit the project with Holm and have asked him, as a first step, to respond to a 2011 letter the board sent him that, among other things, requested more project details.
As the parties talk, Middlebury town Counsel Benjamin Putnam said town officials should ensure that the project preserves the water quality and aesthetic allure of the falls, that the project be well-managed and financed, and that nearby property owners and residents be included in the discussion and planning.
Holm provided the following reaction to the latest chapter in what has been a long planning process.
“The process will involve a formal arrangement between the Town and Middlebury Electric Co. to fulfill a Federal Regulatory Energy Commission (FERC) requirement for licensing,” Holm wrote in an e-mail. “With that agreement inked we can submit our revised FERC application and resume the final stages of FERC licensure as well as the Vermont water quality permit process.”
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependent.com.

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