Turbines to light river near bridges

Published 12:03 pm Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A display of lights powered by an underwater turbine that eventually could illuminate the Interstate 20 bridge over the Mississippi River at Vicksburg is planned this summer at the Mississippi Welcome Center.

Gloucester, Mass.-based Free Flow Power Corp. and the Mississippi Department of Transportation have agreed to promote the technology in a pilot project to explore using hydrokinetic energy to illuminate bridges in the state, with the state-owned rest area as a backdrop. The goal, both say, is to show natural river flows can light bridges locally and around the world.

“We believe this partnership with Free Flow Power may enable MDOT to incorporate renewable energy into our day-to-day operations,” MDOT Central District Commissioner Dick Hall said in a joint statement Tuesday touting the effort. Hall said no closures are expected at the Washington Street facility during midsummer setup. A kiosk explaining the project and the benefits of hydrokinetic energy will accompany the display. Eventually, Hall said, the technology could be harnessed to power lights across such structures as the Interstate 20 bridge. Hall said performance of the test model may be used to sign future pacts with other agencies, such as the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development, which maintains the bridge.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

What the display will look like, its size, how it will affect tourists’ walking space will be ironed out later, said Jon Guidroz, the firm’s director of project development, when reached Tuesday. The turbine that will power the display will be determined after the company consults with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the Coast Guard and others concerning its impact on shipping, Guidroz said.

The firm, with offices in New Orleans, Boston and Bellingham, Wash., has applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for 80 preliminary permits to sink the large turbines, which resemble jet propellers, in the Mississippi River. River currents spin the turbines, to be placed in the stream below the navigation channel. Two sites in Warren County have been identified, one near the Brunswick community and another south of Davis Island. Pilot projects for turbine sites planned by Free Flow and other hydropower companies were funded heavily by green technology grants in the 2009 federal stimulus package.

Retired Army Brig. Gen. Robert Crear, former commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Mississippi Valley Division and chairman of the firm’s hydropower project development arm, said demonstrations were “critical” to advancing the technology while the company pursues full licenses for the turbines by 2012.

“We’re excited to have a partner like MDOT in my home state of Mississippi as we balance the competing uses of the waterway in a responsible manner while bringing the state of Mississippi to a leadership position in domestic, renewable and clean electricity production,” Crear said in the statement.

About 20 kilowatts of electricity can be produced by turbines in the river, according to specifications filed with FERC. The amount won’t be enough to serve entire cities but will supplement an existing power grid, company officials have said.