A proposal to build a $13 million hydroelectric power plant on the north bank of the Kansas River is advancing at City Hall, but the largest financial hurdles for the project remain.
Leaders with Lawrence-based Bowersock Mills & Power Co. have filed for a special use permit to build the plant on the northern end of the Bowersock Dam — a project that would dramatically change the view of motorists who travel over the nearby downtown Kansas River bridges.
“We’re doing everything that is necessary from a permit standpoint to be ready to move forward if we get a power purchase agreement and financing for the project,” said Stephen Hill, Bowersock president.
Hill said the company doesn’t have deals yet for financing or with an electric company that ultimately would purchase the power from the plant.
“Financing is a tough nut,” Hill said. “That’s very difficult to figure out in today’s environment. But you can still describe us as cautiously optimistic.”
The project also will need a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The company filed for that permit in July, and Hill said the process has been going well. He expects to receive federal approval in December.
City Hall leaders will have to determine whether the project fits into the North Lawrence area. Plans for the project — which were publicly unveiled in August — call for the narrow building to be about 60 feet tall, making it just taller than the adjacent Kansas River bridges. The plant also will jut into the river about 150 feet, taking it to the north edge of the existing Bowersock Dam. The building will be designed so water can flow through it, and when the water reaches certain levels, the back side of the plant will feature a cascading waterfall.
Amy Brown, a planner with Lawrence-Douglas County Planning Department, said her office hasn’t completed its review of the project. The project tentatively is scheduled to be heard by the Planning Commission on May 24.
Bowersock will continue to operate its existing plant on the south bank of the river, which was built in the late-1800s and used by Hill’s great-grandfather to fuel an industrial boom in Lawrence.
The new plant would about double the amount of electricity the company could produce. The two plants are estimated to be able to produce enough electricity for 4,500 homes.
Hill said the company is receiving good feedback from possible purchasers of the power. Power companies across the state are expected to have more need for green energy in the future. Gov. Mark Parkinson last year signed new legislation that requires investor-owned utilities in the state to generate at least 20 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.