Winfield says he’s open to talk on energy turbines in river

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 13, 2009

With another foothold in the works in the South Delta, harnessing electricity from the Mississippi River will be considered by the Winfield administration in Vicksburg — provided companies drop a calling card at City Hall.

Energy-producing turbines to be spun by natural current in rivers, a concept under study by federal regulators, gained traction late in the Laurence Leyens administration as a way to lower energy costs for city government. Specifics from Mayor Paul Winfield on the concept have been nil since his election in June, but he said he might consider sitting down with interested firms if approached.

“Neither of the companies have approached my office,” Winfield said Wednesday when asked about the city’s interest in the topic. Winfield said his office would be actively promoting the idea — referring to the catch-all term “green technology” by name — and dismissing the notion raised by Leyens during the campaign that a Winfield victory would end all local interest.

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“He said it wouldn’t happen if he wasn’t here. I don’t know about that,” Winfield said.

Winfield’s comments follow a flurry of activity north of Vicksburg in Issaquena County, where supervisors reportedly agreed to put their names on two turbine applications that could trump a private company’s plans for the same sites.

A technical support services contract the board OK’d in principle with Louisiana-based MARMC Enterprises LLC at sites in the river near the Addie community and at Fitler Bend could net the county millions in shared revenue, according to published reports.

Produced with UEK Corp., the “underwater electric kite” design turbine would produce 5 megawatts of power to be sold — with about half the revenue to be shared with the county, according to reports.

The sites near Issaquena could join an application for a turbine and four in Louisiana for which MARMC has been issued preliminary permits. Only a preliminary proposal has been signed with Issaquena and county supervisors will own the license if approved, said MARMC principal Nicoline Marinovich.

“(Issaquena County) hired us as an agent because they’re a poor county trying to increase their revenues,” Marinovich said.

Despite Free Flow’s application for the same site, Issaquena has until Sept. 7 to submit an application for a license,. A “municipal preference” could work in Issaquena’s favor as part of the endeavor, depending on details of the application, said FERC hydropower projects official Celeste Miller.

“We would have to see what it says,” Miller said of submissions made by local governments on sites already the subject of a private company’s efforts. “FERC would have to determine whether to issue a preliminary permit.”

A retired FERC official, J. Mark Robinson, became Free Flow’s 11th board member last Thursday, joining a panel that boasts retired Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, a Vicksburg native and former commander of the Army Corps’ Mississippi Valley Division. Crear will assist the company in guiding it through regulatory steps. Robinson retired in June as director of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, which regulates new energy infrastructure projects such as hydropower.

Massachusetts-based Free Flow Power Corp. has a preliminary permit filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission at the same locations and was approached by the county’s legal counsel, but was passed over during the county’s search for a partner because a deal with MARMC promised shared revenue from power sales, county board attorney Charles Weissinger told the Deer Creek Pilot. All proposed turbines nationwide must be licensed by FERC, a process expected to last another three years for most pending projects.

In a statement, the company said:

“Free Flow Power had a very general conversation with Charles Weissinger, during which Mr. Weissinger indicated that the county would be interested in working with us on hydrokinetic developments. We indicated to Mr. Weissinger that we are open to working with the county on hydrokinetic development. We remain open to such a relationship. To date, Free Flow Power has not received any proposals from the county. We remain open to receiving a proposal.”

Weissinger, to whom the board has referred questions, disputed the company’s depiction of the private meetings and questioned the firm’s resolve to follow through on the projects.

“(Free Flow) is purely a speculator,” Weissinger said, adding “dozens of meetings” were held between he and company officials.

Weissinger declined to estimate how much money the county stood to receive in such a venture because the technology is new.  

“It’s never been done before,” Weissinger said.

Free Flow has preliminary permits on 55 sites on the Mississippi River south of St. Louis, including near major cities such as Memphis and New Orleans and a pair near Vicksburg. Among 25 the company on which permits are pending include two near Warren County, near the Brunswick community and another south of Vicksburg near Davis Island.

Another company, Houston-based Hydro Green Energy, plans local sites just south of Kings Point Island and downriver near Vidalia, La.

Both firms aim to be fully licensed by FERC by 2012.


Contact Danny Barrett Jr. at