Plan moves forward to generate electricity with turbines in Mississippi River

Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Barges passed Cape Rock going north on the Mississippi River Monday afternoon, August 13, 2007. (Kit Doyle)

ST. LOUIS -- A federal agency is holding meetings in seven cities on a plan to harness the flow of the Mississippi River to generate power from St. Louis to New Orleans.

Free Flow Power Corp. of Gloucester, Mass., wants to place 180,000 small turbines in the Mississippi River below navigational channels to generate as much as 1,800 megawatts of electricity.

The potentially $3 billion system, known as a hydrokinetic project, would use river currents to spin the turbine blades, which then turn a generator shaft to produce electricity. Cables would transmit the power to sites on land.

While Free Flow has received permits to study sites where it would like to place the turbines, the project is still in its early stages. The company said it could be 2011 before it applies for licenses that would allow for equipment installation.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is hosting 10 public meetings. Government agencies and outside organizations that could be affected by the project, such as groups with ties to river navigation or its wildlife, are also invited to the meetings.

Ramya Swaminathan, Free Flow's vice president for project development, said Tuesday that the company has already worked to address some obvious concerns in its plans, like creating turbines that could be placed away from barge and boat traffic and that turn with the river current -- and at a speed that won't damage fish.

"The turbine was designed with fish friendliness in mind," she said.

In Southeast Missouri, a site visit is planned at 9 a.m. May 6 in Cape Girardeau at the Cape Rock Park Lookout.

In St. Louis, a site visit will be at 3 p.m. May 6 at the Mary Meachum crossing site on the Riverfront Trail. The related public meetings in St. Louis will be at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. May 7 at the Holiday Inn Select Downtown.

Meetings are also being held in Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, Baton Rouge and Tunica Resorts in Louisiana. They've already been held in Vicksburg, Miss.

After those meetings, regulatory commission performs an environmental review, said commission spokeswoman Celeste Miller.

Free Flow also wants to place turbines in the Missouri and Ohio rivers; the current meetings relate only to the Mississippi River plans.

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