Waterloo Hydroelectric Project reborn in late-April

On a blustery cold morning last week, over 50 people gathered on the banks of the Cayuga-Seneca canal to celebrate the rebirth of the Waterloo Hydroelectric Project.

First commissioned in 1915, the project has faithfully powered the Finger Lakes Region for over a century bearing witness to major local, national and international historic events. Time had taken its toll and it was in need of repair when Gravity Renewables, a leading national owner and operator of small hydro projects, acquired the two megawatt (MW) facility, and its 8 MW sister project in Seneca Falls, in the summer of 2016.

Gravity has been able to make the investments needed to restore the Waterloo project to its full potential thanks to a partnership with Tompkins County. Through a program facilitated by the Municipal Electric & Gas Alliance (MEGA) and the New York State Association of Counties (NYSAC), Tompkins County entered into a power purchase agreement to cover the electric needs of its government buildings.

At the Re-Dedication ceremony, representatives of the partnership lauded the innovative arrangement that has resulted in more green power for the state and the restoration of an historical powerhouse. With a nod to Waterloo’s distinction as the birthplace of Memorial Day, the event opened with the pledge of allegiance followed by a Certificate of Congratulations from Senator Pam Helming’s office, presented by Joshua Garnish, Community & Constituent Affairs Assistant.

Ted Rose, Chief Executive Office of Gravity thanked local officials, Tompkins County, MEGA and NYSAC for their vision and commitment to the project, saying “The partnership is directly responsible for over half a million-dollar investment in the facility,” adding lightly that “Gravity’s three full-time operators and many local subcontractors can attest to the fact that they have been busy.”

Mike Stamm, Chairman of the Board of Directors for MEGA, recognized Tompkins County and Gravity for pioneering the policy mechanism known as remote net metering for hydropower transactions.

MaryEllen Odell, President of NYSAC, pointed out that the partnership stands as an example for how “counties and municipalities can together with the business community to meet energy needs in a way that is both lowers taxpayer costs and is helps our environment.”

Chair of the Tompkins County Legislature, Martha Robertson, noted that the partnership has exceeded all expectations. “The Waterloo hydroelectric project met 79% of Tompkins County power needs last year, far more than we originally anticipated,” Robertson noted. “We are proud to be a leader on powering our facilities with clean power that is providing economic benefit for our County and the region as a whole.” Robertson was joined by many County colleagues including current legislators Anna Kelles, David McKenna, Dan Klein, Leslyn McBean-Claiborne, Anne Korman, Henry Granison, Deborah Dawson, Amanda Champion and former legislators Dooley Kiefer and Jim Dennis.

Each of the presenters referenced the indefatigable commitment and vision of Stu Stein, architect of the partnership and mechanism that led to the day’s success. He passed before he could see the fruits of his efforts, said Ted Rose, but have no doubt “Stu was a person who saw the world as it could be, and we are here today because of him.”

Members of Stein’s family, including his wife, Sandy, joined his many long-time colleagues and friends from throughout the state to witness the dedication of the Waterloo powerhouse as the Stu Stein Powerhouse. Barbara Blanchard, Customer Relations Manager for MEGA, Vice Chair of The Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor Commission and dear friend of Stu Stein’s gave a moving talk that reflected on his ability to see opportunity where others saw uncertainty. “When I went to Stu with what I had learned about electricity deregulation, he could have said, ‘let’s see how it works out before we do anything’”, said Blanchard. “Instead he said ‘let’s see how we can create value for counties while improving the environment.’ Our world is a better place because of him.”

In recognition of Stu Stein’s contributions, a plaque will reside at the Waterloo powerhouse that reads, “The Waterloo Hydroelectric Powerhouse is dedicated to Stu Stein in recognition of his vision and leadership in rejuvenating this and other historic small hydropower projects so that they can cleanly power New York’s future. The Erie Canal Heritage Corridor Commission also recognized Stein in a proclamation that recognized that “Mr. Stein’s interest in and commitment to the Canal and the work of the Commission is well known and greatly admired, and his influence still felt today.” Full text of the proclamation is below.

Representatives from Seneca County, Tompkins County, MEGA, NYSAC, Gravity, neighbors and local community organizations like the Seneca Lake Pure Waters Association, followed the Re-Dedication ceremony with a tour of the Waterloo plant. The tour highlighted how recent upgrades to the facility’s trash rake, turbines and physical structure are important not only to increased clean generation, but also to managing water levels for both the NY State Canal Corporation and Seneca Lake.

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