FERC approves transfer of 377.7-MW Tapoco from Alcoa to Brookfield

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the license transfer of the 377.7-MW Tapoco hydroelectric project from Alcoa Power Generating Inc. to a unit of Brookfield Renewable Energy Partners.

The Oct. 4 FERC order approves Brookfield‘s acquisition of Tapoco (No. 2169) on the Little Tennessee and Cheoah rivers in North Carolina and Tennessee for $600 million from aluminum producer Alcoa Inc.

The transfer to Brookfield Smoky Mountain Hydropower LLC includes 86 miles of transmission line, 14,500 acres of land, and four generating stations and dams, Cheoah, Calderwood, Chilhowee, and Santeetlah. Alcoa originally developed Tapoco between 1919 and 1957 to power its aluminum smelting and rolling mill in Alcoa, Tenn.

FERC said the transfer to Canada-based Brookfield is contingent on transfer of title of all properties including all dam safety related documents and license documents as well as Brookfield’s formal acceptance of the license terms and conditions.

Brookfield Renewable Energy said it is to own about 25 percent interest in the project and will integrate the assets into its North American operating platform. It said the remaining equity interest will be funded by an institutional fund managed by affiliate Brookfield Asset Management.

Alcoa commissions modernization of 140-MW Cheoah development

Prior to yearend handover of the Tapoco project, Alcoa announced commissioning of a $110 million modernization project at the project’s 140-MW Cheoah development in North Carolina, increasing efficiency and output and extending life of the development by at least 40 to 50 years.

The modernization includes upgrades to four of Cheoah’s five turbine-generators, along with process and utility systems such as transformers, switchgear, power and control wiring, piping, and fire protection equipment. Another two units are to be upgraded during the second phase of the modernization with completion expected in spring 2013.

FERC certified incremental generation from the Cheoah upgrades for renewable energy production tax credits.

The Department of Energy awarded Alcoa a $12.95 million grant for the work as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Mark Gross, Alcoa Power Generating’s hydro operations manager, said the work exceeded a DOE goal of a 28 percent increase of generating capacity, demonstrating a 50 percent increase.

The improvements also eliminated the use of circuit breaker oil and minimized the need for transformer oil, resulting in a net decrease in total oil volume in high-voltage equipment of about 40,000 gallons. New use of air-cooled transformers reduced cooling water requirements by 122,000 gallons per day.

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