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Re-energizing Quinebaug

Dexter-Russell unveils hydro power plan

Engineer John Petrillo of the Essex Partnership discusses the location of Dexter-Russellís proposed hydroelectric project on the Quinebaug River, just east of Pleasant Street bridge. Gus Steeves. (click for larger version)
December 08, 2009
SOUTHBRIDGE — Many years ago, the Quinebaug River powered several businesses, including the sprawling mill now known as Dexter-Russell Cutlery. If that firm's management gets its way, the river will do so again, only in a way that's a lot less obtrusive than the old waterwheels.

On Tuesday, it held the first public forum of its plan to attach a modern turbine to its dam. According to engineer John Petrillo of the Essex Partnership, the project will cost about $2 million, take about 3 years to permit and build, produce about 30 percent of its current power usage, and pay back about 15 percent of their cost over the next 20 years.

"This is a long-term investment for the company, certainly not a goldmine," Petrillo said. "These guys are a little rare in looking at where the company's going to be in the long term and that's probably a testament to why they've been in business since 1818."

Despite the apparent complexity of the diagrams and permitting process, the basic principle of the project is simple. A fairly large siphon planned for the north side of the river will suck up water as it flows over the dam. That water turns a small turbine to be located atop the dam's northern abutment, the resulting electricity is transmitted via a cable to the firm's main building, and the water is immediately returned to the river without diversion or storage.

The company will use the power immediately; it isn't planning any storage capacity, Petrillo said. If there's extra, Dexter-Russell plans to sell it to the grid, but the firm typically leaves some furnaces "semi-stoked at all times," so he predicted there won't be much.

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