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New form of hydropower to be used in Hastings

The turbine is slowly lowered into the support slots with help from a huge crane and a little man power. staff photo

"Delicate" probably wouldn't be the first word one would use to describe something the size of a backyard swimming pool that weighs about as much as 14 Hummers.

Now picture a crane hoisting that thing 50 feet into the air and sliding it into a tight-fitting frame.

Does "delicate" come to mind now?

On Wednesday morning, a revolutionary power source arrived in Hastings and was painstakingly lifted onto the barge that will become its new home.

Unlike regular hydroelectric plants, which harness energy from water as it drops down man-made structures like dams, this new technology will use the Mississippi River's natural current to create electricity. It's the first of its kind in the world.

The 35-ton unit will be anchored on a barge about 50 feet downstream from Lock and Dam 2 and the Hastings hydroelectric plant. The energy it produces will be routed through the existing infrastructure there.

The electricity will be sold to Xcel Energy via the city's existing power purchase agreement it has with Xcel for the hydropower plant. The profits will be split 50/50 between Hydro Green Energy, the company that developed the technology, and the city. It's expected the city will make about $20,000 annually from the deal.

Running at full capacity, the new technology could generate enough electricity to power 124 homes for one year.

On Tuesday morning, Mark Stover, vice president of governmental and external affairs for Hydro Green, and Wayne Krouse, the company's founder and CEO, anxiously sipped coffee at Dunn Bros. in Hastings.

Their table was littered with cell phones, Blackberrys, walkie talkies, jump drives, a camera and camcorder, laptop computers and pens and paper. Their company is based out of Houston, but they're in Hastings this week to oversee the staging of the project.

Right now, the company is awaiting a final approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) before the barge can be floated into place and begin producing electricity.

But, Hydro Green has gotten permission from the state and the Army Corps of Engineers to stage the project on the Corps' property near Lock and Dam 2. It is not known exactly when the approval from FERC will come. It could be as soon as this week, or as long as a month or two.

On Wednesday, a flat-bed semi truck delivered the massive turbine that will be submerged in the river on the underside of the barge.

Getting it onto the barge was a two-hour long process that took three cranes and a crew of 12 men from Rosemount-based Vic's Crane and Heavy Haul.

The one turbine that was delivered this week represents only half of the project. A second turbine will be installed sometime in early spring once the first is up and running and Hydro Green has a chance to step back from the process and examine how it could improve energy output or cut productions costs.