Home » Developer seeks to put $1 billion stored hydropower project in Bell County

Developer seeks to put $1 billion stored hydropower project in Bell County

The configuration of a closed-loop hydropower storage system. (Rye Development graphic)

BELL COUNTY, Ky.Rye Development, a Boston-based U.S. hydropower developer, says it plans to invest nearly $1 billion in Bell County on a project to provide electric power via a system that would store and release water as needed, providing up to 200 megawatts for eight hours.

Rye states in a news release that it has filed for a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permit for the Lewis Ridge Closed-Loop Pumped Hydropower Storage project in Bell County, and has commenced the development process.

The project is proposed for a former coal strip-mining site adjacent to the Cumberland River near the communities of Blackmont, Tejay, Balkan and Callaway, an active coal mining area. Coal use is diminishing in the power grid across the nation, and Kentucky has seen most of its formerly nearly 20,000 coal mining jobs eliminated.

Sometimes referred to as “water batteries,” closed-loop pumped-storage systems move water between a man-made lower reservoir and a man-made upper reservoir. Water is released from the upper reservoir and used to turn hydroelectric turbines to generate electricity before being collected in the lower reservoir; it is then returned to the upper reservoir to repeat the process, recycling the same water thousands of times to deploy needed energy to the grid.

Pumped storage offers a flexible solution to the changing power grid, including the ability to store intermittent solar and wind resources moving forward.

The Bell County project site is unique and features beneficial topography and proximity to transmission infrastructure. These features allow Lewis Ridge to bring a significant amount of economic development benefit to adjacent communities while also preserving ratepayer reliability and affordability. Pumped storage facilities are the most common form of energy storage in the U.S., representing 95% of all utility-scale storage, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. It is a proven technology that can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and dependence on fossil fuels.

Rye Development says the Lewis Ridge project will invest nearly $1 billion into Bell County and bring close to 2,000 family-wage construction jobs over a 3- to 5-year period, as well as several dozen direct and indirect family-wage jobs during project operations. The FERC permit being requested is for a 50-year license to operate.

“Rye is proud to bring these types of developments to coal communities in the U.S. — delivering on the promise of jobs in the energy transition,” said Paul Jacob, CEO of Rye. “The Lewis Ridge project marks a significant step forward in the push toward a more renewable energy grid.”

The loss of coal generation also means the nation will need thousands of megawatts of new generating resources and electricity storage to integrate the intermittent renewable energy from wind and solar that is being added to the grid. Long duration electricity storage, particularly pumped storage hydro, will help solve the challenge of how to take the wind and solar energy which is generated when the wind blows and the sun shines and transform that into energy that can keep the lights on around the clock.

Rye Development states it has a current pipeline of over 25 projects in 10 states. Its mailing address is in Boston with additional offices in Pittsburg and in Portland, Ore. Rye is currently permitted on a two-year pilot basis for a hydro power project at Kentucky Lock and Dam #11 to install generating equipment in the unused lock chamber at that dam, which is owned by the Kentucky River Authority. It is slated to be completed this year and generate 5 megawatts of power.