The year 2008 saw New York Power Authority celebrate the 50th anniversary of its St. Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project on the St Lawrence River. Here we take a look back over the years and discover just how Franklin D. Roosevelt’s dream of harnessing the hydro potential of the river’s international rapids became a reality
On 17 July 1958 employees at the Power Authority of the State of New York (now the New York Power Authority) celebrated as power generation began at its first hydroelectric station on the St. Lawrence River. Now, over 50 years later, this power scheme – the St Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project – is still playing a crucial role, providing clean low-cost electricity to consumers in Northern New York and beyond.
Development of this important scheme, however, did not come without decades of debate and a monumental construction effort that harnessed one of North America’s mightiest waterways. The development on the St. Lawrence River was conceived as a joint power and navigation scheme that included construction of a St. Lawrence Seaway to link the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean. A treaty between the US and Canada covering both projects appeared to be a necessary first step.
In the first part of the 20th Century, while Canadians mapped plans to develop the river’s hydro potential, US officials wrestled over whether control of this valuable resource should be in public or private hands. In New York, advocates on both sides of the political aisle called for public development. A stateowned power authority was proposed to take on the assignment, sparking further bitter dispute. It took the decisive drive of Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt to win the state legislature’s approval of the Power Authority of the State of New York. Roosevelt signed the hard-fought Power Authority Act in 1931, creating the state utility that would join the Canadian Utility, Ontario Hydro, in developing the river.
More than 20 years passed before the Power Authority could fulfill the purpose for which it was created: construction of a hydroelectric facility on the St. Lawrence River. A breakthrough came in 1952 when the International Joint Commission, formed to resolve disputes over waterways along the US-Canadian border, granted permits for the project to the two nations. The Power Authority obtained a federal licence in 1953 to develop the US share of the facility.
With construction about to begin in 1954, Governor Thomas E. Dewey selected Robert Moses, New York’s ‘master builder’ as Power Authority chairman. On the basis of a handshake, Moses and his Ontario Hydro counterpart, Robert H. Saunders, commenced a remarkable international endeavour that called for the massive project to be completed two years ahead of the original schedule and for costs to be shared on a 50-50 basis.
Groundbreaking took place in August 1954, with first power achieved four years later at Ontario Hydro’s Robert H. Saunders-St. Lawrence Generating Station and at the Power Authority facility, known today as the St Lawrence-Franklin D. Roosevelt Power Project. Full power flowed on both sides of the border in 1959, meeting the ambitious target set by Moses and Saunders only five years before. Construction costs amounted to US$650M, split equally between the US and Canada.
The international power project was formally dedicated on 27 June 1959 in ceremonies led by Queen Elizabeth II and Vice President Richard M. Nixon. Here, the Queen unveiled the International Friendship Monument on the border between the US and Canada, at the center of the dam. The monument, refurbished shortly before the power project’s 50th anniversary in 2008, commemorates the friendship between the two nations and the cooperative undertaking that made the project a reality.
Located in the Town of Massena, St. Lawrence County, the principal features of the project include the Robert Moses-Robert H Saunders power dam, which has an 80-foot head and stretches 3200ft (975m) across the St. Lawrence River. The dam includes 32 turbine-generator sets, with 16 operated by NYPA and 16 by Ontario Power Generation, producing 800MW for each utility. The Long Sault Dam, 3.5 miles (5.6km) upstream from the power dam, directs flow toward the powerhouse, while the Iroquois dam, 28.5 miles (46km) upstream, controls the outflow of Lake Ontario. Other features include the Massena Intake and Lake St. Lawrence, which at 37,500 acres – almost as large as the District of Columbia – extends from Iroquois Dam to the power dam, enclosed by 16 miles of dikes.
On the US side, two 230kV transmission lines link to three NYPA substations – Plattsburgh, Adirondack and Massena (link with NYPA 765kV line) – and Ontario. Three local 115kV lines serve project customer, Alcoa, with links to General Motors. (Three other 115kV lines from the project to Alcoa facilities are shared between the company and NYPA; two of these lines tap into the town of Massena’s municipal system).
New licence, new benefits
In October 2003, the Power Authority received a new 50-year federal license for the St. Lawrence-FDR project, leading to a host of new economic, environmental and recreational benefits to the region stemming from various agreements. These benefits include:
• A US$115M community enhancement fund for 10 entities represented by the Local Government Task Force, composed of St Lawrence County; the towns of Lisbon, Louisville, Massena and Waddington; the villages of Massena and Waddington; and the Lisbon, Massena and Madrid-Waddington school districts, with $2M to be provided each year for the life of the new project licence.
• A funding mechanism likely to produce another $10.5M over the next 50 years, known as the High Water Flow Adjustment, triggered whenever annual net generation at the power project exceeds 7M MWh.
• Approximately $19M in recreational improvements to be completed over the next five years, with more than $11M for Robert Moses and Coles Creek state parks and some $8M at local parks in Lisbon, Louisville, Massena and Waddington. In addition to renovations and expansions of existing facilities for swimming, boating, camping, hiking and picnicking, many of the projects will bring these sites into compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
• Significantly revised project boundaries following the return of approximately 600 acres of shoreline property to local communities and adjoining landowners. In addition to the conveyance of this acreage, 895 acres of surplus project land were previously conveyed to North County communities, a process that began in early 2001.
• Shoreline stabilisation projects to halt or prevent erosion at 31 sites along the project shoreline, with work expected to be completed over a 10-year period, starting in 2004.
In addition to consulting local residents, the Power Authority has worked closely with representatives from the State Department of Environmental Conservation, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and New York Rivers United to identify impacts to the St. Lawrence River and the surrounding environment. As part of its new licence, NYPA will design, construct, maintain and monitor 10 Habitat Improvement Projects throughout the power project’s boundaries at a cost of $8.4M. These projects range from nesting platforms for osprey and loons to hundreds of acres of grassland that provide nesting areas for northern harrier, upland sandpiper, various waterfowl and other birds.
Significant work is also planned for the Wilson Hill Wildlife Management Area, built by the Power Authority in the 1950s and managed today by state environmental officials. NYPA will spend $9.4M to rehabilitate dikes and other water control structures on Wilson Hill.
The impact of the project on eel migration was also studied extensively as part of the licensing process. A new $2M eel-passage facility was constructed at the scheme, with the facility beginning operation on 1 July 2006. Further details on this fishway can be found in the January 2007 issue of International Water Power & Dam Construction.
Life extension and modernisation
NYPA’s stewardship of the facility has also included an ongoing Life Extension and Modernization program, with all 16 turbine-generators being refurbished as part of a $281M program scheduled to run through 2013.
NYPA originally constructed its St. Lawrence-FDR project with two different turbine designs, by Allis Chalmers and Baldwin Lima Hamilton, due to the aggressive schedule for completing the project in the late 1950s. No one manufacturer could meet the timetable and supply all 16 units, so the job was split.
The LEM rehabilitation began in 1998, with Alstom USA awarded contracts to manufacture all 16 replacement turbines. The program began with replacement of the eight BLH units, with the remaining eight AC units replaced subsequently.
The first new turbine was delivered on 2 May 2001 for an in-service date of 4 April 2002.
Each turbine replacement entails a highly coordinated effort involving nine major component manufacturers working together to achieve numerous installation milestones. Each unit is disassembled and removed, with its location – the turbine pit in the power dam –renovated to facilitate installation of the new Alstom turbine. Each unit’s heavy components and machinery are transported from the site for refurbishment and returned for installation in the turbine pit, with the new turbine that was delivered earlier.
St. Lawrence-FDR personnel have been responsible for most of the LEM work. One facet of the job – reconditioning the turbine wicket gates – is being done by staff at NYPA’s Frederick R. Clark Energy Center in Marcy.
A contingent of New York, national and international manufacturers have been contracted to produce the components and machinery for the LEM due to many factors including the high demand worldwide for the types of raw materials used in the initiative, a fast-track work schedule to minimize outage times and the search for competitive pricing.
Among the design advances in the replacement turbines is a more efficient shape so each refurbished unit will use less water to generate the same amount of power. Also, the use of stainless steel, instead of carbon steel, makes the new turbines more resistant to wear and reduces required maintenance, extending the life of the power project.
The St. Lawrence-FDR project has long served as a mainstay for Massena’s aluminum industry. In January this year, New York Governor David A. Paterson approved a new contract between NYPA and Alcoa Inc., which is intended to ensure that the North Country’s largest private employer will remain in St. Lawrence County for decades to come and expand its manufacturing operations.
Under the contract, which will be effective on 1 July 2013, NYPA will make available to Alcoa 478MW of low-cost hydropower for a term of 30 years. In exchange for the use of that power, $600M will be invested to upgrade Alcoa’s facilities, and approximately 1000 jobs will be retained at its two plants. The project will also create 600 to 900 construction jobs over the two- to three-year construction period. The event follows the ratification of the contract at the end of 2008 by NYPA’s Board of Trustees.
In addition to the major employment and capital-investment commitments, the contract provides for Alcoa’s funding of a $10M North Country Economic Development Fund (NCEDF) for use in St. Lawrence, Franklin, Essex, Jefferson, Lewis, Hamilton and Herkimer counties and on the Akwesasne Mohawk Reservation. Alcoa’s funding of the NCEDF will be provided within 90 days of a decision by Alcoa’s Board of Directors to proceed with the rebuilding of Alcoa’s East Plant. The $10M fund will be jointly administered by NYPA and another entity specified by New York State.
The new contract marks the first time that formal job commitments, similar to arrangements NYPA has with other businesses in the state for various power programs, are part of the requirements for Alcoa’s use of the hydro power. NYPA may proportionately reduce the power allocation if employment falls below the agreed-upon minimum threshold. Also, Alcoa and NYPA may, under certain economic conditions, extend the contract for an additional 10 years.
The new contract provides that Alcoa will continue to receive its current allocation of 478MW of hydro (374MW of firm power and 104MW of interruptible power) at its Massena East and West Plants. This allocation accounts for approximately 60% of the St. Lawrence-FDR power project’s generating output.
1 Jan 1930: Gov Franklin D. Roosevelt states in his annual message to the Legislature that hydroelectric power generated on the St Lawrence river should “remain forever in the actual possession of the people of the state or of an agency created by them.”
|Remembering the early days – employees share their experiences|
Nearly 55 years ago, three ceremonial shovels struck earth along the banks of the St Lawrence River, symbolically starting construction of the Power Authority’s first generating facility and one of New York State’s largest and most reliable hydroelectric projects.
|About the New York Power Authority|
The New York Power Authority (NYPA) is the US’ largest state-owned electric utility, with 18 generating facilities in various parts of New York State and more than 1400 circuit-miles of transmission lines. The utility uses no tax money or state credit – it finances its operations through the sale of bonds and revenues earned in large part through sales of electricity.