Turbine restart stalled for unexpected repairs

The Augusta Canal might be full again, but its hydropower operations are far from normal.

 

The mammoth turbines haven't resumed at Enterprise Mill, which the Augusta Canal Authority operates to power the mill complex and generate operating revenue.

"When we were getting ready to start them back up we noticed some structural problems," said Dayton Sherrouse, the authority's executive director.

The steel beams supporting pipes in the turbine area had begun to weaken.

"If they sag the least bit, we have major problems," he said. "We have people welding and bolting steel plates on each side of all four beams"

The project should be completed any day, and the pair of 600-kilowatt turbines might be restarted as early as the weekend.

The authority lost a primary revenue stream when the canal was drained Jan. 28 to allow an Augusta Utilities Department construction project to proceed.

The draining allowed contractors to install a pair of 60-inch lines that will transfer millions of gallons of raw water each day from the canal to the Highland Avenue treatment plant.

The $13.8 million in work conducted while the canal was drained was part of a multiyear, $68 million improvement package designed to ensure adequate drinking water for Augusta through at least 2050.

Surplus electricity from the Enterprise turbines is sold for profit, in addition to being used by businesses and residents who occupy the building.

"For the mill, we sell to them for 4.7 cents per kilowatt hour," Mr. Sherrouse said.

"When we're not generating, they are buying 100 percent of their electricity from Georgia Power for 7.9 cents. So right there it is costing them at least that difference," Mr. Sherrouse said.

The authority also gets revenue from King and Sibley mills -- from the sale of water those mills use to make electricity.

Although the canal has been refilled, only King Mill has resumed generation, Mr. Sherrouse said.

Sibley, owned by Avondale Mills, was ordered by a Superior Court judge to halt generation last year after the city sued the mill owners, contending that since Sibley was vacant it would be the first to stop generating when water supplies ran low.

Bill Barwick, an Atlanta attorney who represents Avondale, said Sibley Mill's owners were notified recently that there is now ample water available to operate one of the mill's three turbines. Sibley officials have not yet decided whether to start the unit.

"We were told we could have enough water to run one of our three turbines, which is our largest one," Mr. Barwick said. "But we were also told that once the summer months are here we may have to shut it down again."

The mill laid off the workers it once employed to manage the hydropower system, and Mr. Barwick said it remains unclear whether it is financially feasible to rehire them to operate one unit.

"We're crunching numbers to see how much money it would take, and whether we can even operate with one turbine," he said.

The vacant mill remains for sale, Mr. Barwick said.

Mr. Sherrouse estimated in January that the draining of the canal could cost the authority $175,000 in lost revenue.

Since the construction project that made the draining necessary took longer than anticipated, the loss of revenue from hydropower and water sales will be larger.

Last year, the authority took in $452,000 -- 60 percent of its operating budget -- from such sources. Mr. Sherrouse said he has not finished calculating the amount of reductions.

Recreation activities, meanwhile, have resumed on each end. Pedestrian access from Goodrich Street to the towpath area was restored during the weekend, and the Petersburg tourboats resumed operation last week.

Reach Rob Pavey at 868-1222, ext. 119, or rob.pavey@augustachronicle.com.