TIPTON - A Utah company has taken the first baby steps toward the construction of a hydroelectric power plant in Antis Township.
Symbiotics Energy LLC, a Logan, Utah, hydroelectric engineering firm, submitted a preliminary permit application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Aug. 9, according to the commission.
The preliminary plans call for a pumped storage hydroelectric project to be situated between Bellwood and Tipton and require the construction of two dams.
Symbiotics, doing business as Bellwood Hydro LLC, proposes building two reservoirs, an upper and a lower, that would generate power using a tunnel that would take water from the upper reservoir at 12,000 cubic feet per second down a 2,570 foot-long and 30-foot in diameter "power tunnel" that connects to a vertical shaft.
The water would power three turbines, each rated at 250 megawatts, before draining into the lower reservoir, the company outlined in its preliminary application.
Power would be generated eight hours each day during peak times, and water would be pumped from the proposed 120-acre lower reservoir back to the 101-acre upper reservoir for 16 hours each day during off-peak times, according to the company.
The power generated would be about 1,972 gigawatts per year, the company estimated, and a 7.3-mile 500 kilovolt transmission line would also be erected to connect to the electric grid.
Symbiotics CEO Vincent Lamarra did not return a call Friday for comment, and at least one area conservation group already believes it's a bad idea.
Stan Kotala, spokesman for the Juniata Valley Audubon Society, said the more than 600 members of its group in the Altoona area oppose the project, one he said is a way to make money selling energy during peak times while using just as much, although at a cheaper rate, during off-peak times.
Environmentally, there are at least three major concerns, Kotala said.
"This project would inundate a mile of high-quality trout stream in Mulligan Hollow, directly affecting Tipton Run, a Class A high- quality trout stream," Kotala said. "This project would inundate 200-plus acres of forest in a designated Blair County Natural Heritage Area."
The project would also require more than 200 acres of State Game Land 158, "land that was set aside for wildlife conservation and public recreation," he said.
The state Game Commission is unaware of any plans to build the project on state game lands, agency spokesman Jerry Feaser said.
Whether the project ever actually comes to fruition depends on many factors, including whether the company gets a permit to study its feasibility and whether it can line up the laundry list of federal, state and local permits and permissions, state Department of Environmental Protection spokesman Kevin Sunday said.
Nothing will be done by the state until Symbiotics applies for its full permit, and state regulators were aware of the plan and had met this week to discuss it, Sunday said.
According to the plan, that's at least three years away, and FERC spokesman Craig Cano said the company would have three years to prepare for a full permit for the project should it receive the green light on its preliminary permit application.
Symbiotics noted that it expects to spend between $2.5 million and $3 million over the next three years to see if the project is financially and economically viable and if water rights, easements and other requirements can be met.
Cano said FERC has already informed the company that its preliminary permit application has several deficiencies, particularly details of its proposed dams and a more detailed map of the area where the dams are planned. Symbiotics will have until mid-September to address those concerns.
Because the tributary on which the proposed hydro plant is located enters Tipton Run downstream from the Altoona Water Authority's treatment plant, the plant will have no effect on authority operations, authority General Manager Mark Perry said.
"As little as I know about it at this point, I'm not seeing any concerns," Perry said.
Antis Township Supervisors' Chairman Ray Amato said he doesn't approve of gas drilling, but the project will bring some jobs to the area and that's why he's not fighting it.
He said his biggest concern is township roadways sustaining damage. The supervisors will have to adopt some ordinances to protect its roadways, he said.
Mirror Staff Writer Greg Bock is at 946-7458. Staff Writers William Kibler and Amanda Clegg contributed to this story.