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Power flows for first time at Potsdam hydro plant, but roadblocks remain

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POTSDAM — The village’s long-delayed West Dam Hydro Plant generated power for the first time during testing Wednesday morning, although a problem with the plant’s vibration sensors means the village is not quite ready to produce power on a regular basis.

Mayor Steven W. Yurgartis manned the touch-screen control panel in the small brick-and-concrete power station on the west bank of the Raquette River. There were several false starts as additional calibrations were made, but shortly after 10 a.m. the generator started to turn and continued turning, speeding up past 900 rounds per minute and generating about 150 kilowatts of power.

Then, after a few minutes, it stopped. The vibration sensors, responsible for shutting down the system if the machinery begins to shake too heavily, had kicked in.

These vibration sensors also were responsible for cutting short the morning’s earlier attempts at testing the generator. By the time the generator actually produced power, they had been set to maximum tolerance, but still shut the system down.

Mr. Yurgartis said it is too early to tell exactly what the cause of the problem is. Perhaps the programming needs to be adjusted or the sensors need to be repositioned. If this is the case, the problem could be fixed in a matter of hours or days. If new sensors have to be ordered, it could be a week or more before the plant can begin generating power and revenue for the village.

Mr. Yurgartis said the first option is more likely. Testing on the second generator was successful, with no sensor problems. This suggests the hardware will work fine with a few adjustments.

“The second generator did not have the vibration trip problem, which is encouraging, because it means we can probably adjust the other sensor to work correctly,” he said via email after Wednesday’s testing was complete.

The plant’s array of sensors will allow it to operate automatically with little supervision once it is up and running.

The troubled power plant is about five years behind schedule and $1.3 million over budget. The latest cost estimate was $4.8 million.

Most of the delays come from the village’s deal with Canadian Turbines. Some of the parts promised by the Burlington, Ont., company were faulty; others never arrived. Eventually the company dissolved.

The village began purchasing the necessary parts piecemeal from various suppliers.

Frank Christie, owner of Christie Engineering, Onekama, Mich., was the lead engineer for most of the project. In 2012 the village hired HMT Inc., Cicero, to oversee the plant’s connection to the grid.

The village won more than $6.8 million in a lawsuit against Canadian Turbines, but does not expect to see any money from the now nonexistent corporation.

“This project seems to have been plagued by bad luck,” Mr. Yurgartis said.

Now that the plant has finally generated power, the “light at the end of the tunnel” is near, he said.

The village initially will sell the power directly to the open market, but is in negotiations with an unidentified private buyer who would purchase electricity at a fixed price.

The fact that the plant produced power for the first time is a major victory for the village, Mr. Yurgartis said.

“It’s a great success,” he said. “We’re online; we’re producing power. The rest is just tinkering.”

Once both turbines are working, the plant will be able to generate a maximum of about 900 kilowatts. This is more power produced more efficiently than the village’s long-standing plant on the east side of the river, which can generate 500 kilowatts.

Mr. Yurgartis said he could not estimate when the generators will be able to run constantly. The sensor issue needs to be addressed, and ice has to be cleared from the dam to allow the maximum amount of water through.

Once everything is working as it should, it will be only a matter of days before the village can start making money off the plant.

“National Grid has a few adjustment to make on their end, but hopefully that will only take a couple days,” Village Administrator David H. Fenton said.





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