ANTRIM - State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Mike Krancer on Wednesday opened a valve allowing treated acid mine water from the Antrim treatment plant in Tioga County to power a turbine and begin generating electricity to run the facility.
"This micro-hydro plant is the first of its kind in Pennsylvania to use acid mine water to generate renewable energy while creating no air or water pollution," Krancer said. "It helps to solve an existing water pollution problem by using a treated waste product from past mining activities to generate energy."
The Babb Creek Watershed Association identified electric power production from the treatment plant discharge as one way to reduce the plant's operating costs and generate an additional revenue stream for the Antrim Treatment Trust, which was established in 1991 by the Antrim Mining Co. before it went out of business.
Over the years, poor market returns in 2008, unanticipated costs and water flows that were higher than originally anticipated put the Antrim Treatment Trust's long-term financial stability in jeopardy, which led the association and the state Department of Environmental Protection to start examining new ways to ensure the trust's stability, according to DEP spokesman Dan Spadoni.
"The Antrim micro-hydro project provides an economically viable model that should inspire similar projects elsewhere in Pennsylvania's coal fields," association President William Beacom said. "Our association is proud to be involved with such an innovative project. The continued operation of the treatment plant is the cornerstone to sustained restoration of Babb and Pine creeks."
The original Antrim mine drainage treatment plant was built in 1991 and, in 1996, was replaced with a new plant that treats about 2,000 gallons per minute of severe acid mine drainage. The association operates the plant under an agreement with DEP, and funds from the trust support treatment operations.
In 2008, the association received a $428,710 DEP Energy Harvest Grant to install two hydroelectric turbines on the Antrim treatment plant discharge.
In May, BioMost Inc. in Mars, Butler County, completed construction, which includes an impoundment that collects treated water from the plant, 1,000 feet of pipeline and a power house with two 20-kilowatt turbines.
The power house is operating one turbine to supply electricity to the plant, using about 400 gallons per minute. At times, the Antrim discharge has been known to reach 3,000 gpm.
According to Spadoni, the power plant "should generate about 40 kilowatts, enough to provide power for the acid mine treatment plant, and there will be excess power that they will sell back into the power grid, generating additional revenue for the treatment trust."
When licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the power house will run both turbines and sell power into the electricity grid, eliminating $12,000 in annual power costs to the treatment plant and generating $10,000 per year in additional revenue for the Antrim Treatment trust, he added.
Woodlands Bank, which administers the trust, and Waste Management Inc. also were involved in the project.
By 2002, the Antrim water treatment plant had cleaned up five miles of Pine Creek that had been impaired by acid mine drainage. It also became the impetus for a larger effort to treat all sources of abandoned mine drainage into Babb Creek.
By 2009, 14 miles of Babb Creek had been removed from the impaired waters list.