One source of renewable energy has proven to be too expensive for the city of Rock Island.
The city is seeking to decommission its hydroelectric plant, built in 1912, on the Rock River. Public Works Director Michael Bartels filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission April 21 to surrender the city's exemption and decommission the Sears hydroelectric facility, 5200 11th St., stating it costs too much to operate.
If approved, the power-generating equipment will be removed, except for the turbines. The application states there will be no environmental or historic impact to the removal and expects no impact to the Rock River, wildlife or fish population. The roller dams and powerhouse, overseen by the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, are owned by the state and will remain in place.
The city has been leasing the powerhouse and dams from the state for the purpose of generating electricity, with the lease set to expire in 2032. According to the application, the plant has been offline since December 2018.
When it was in production, the hydroplant provided 45% of power to the Mill Street wastewater treatment plant, 20% of power to the raw water pump station and 35% of the power to the water treatment plant.
Hydropower uses water as fuel. It is considered a renewable energy because flowing water is constantly recharging the system and its energy is not reduced or used up in the process.
According to letters from Lisa Perry, wastewater supervisor for Rock Island, sent to the Illinois Division of Concessions and Lease Management and the Office of Water Programs on March 18, IDNR staff have informed the city that the Sears and Steel dams have been moved up on the priority list for the state's dam removal initiative. Removal of the dams is expected to take place in the next five to seven years.
"Based on this information, the city has opted to cease operating the facility for the purpose of generating electricity, terminate the lease with the state and surrender the FERC exemption," Perry wrote.
In January 2020, Bartels told city council members the city still owed $1.1 million on equipment in the facility, which won't be paid off until 2028. The city purchased all equipment in the hydro plant in 2008 for $1.3 million and spent another $805,000 in 2010 by upgrading it with two generators and turbines.
At the time, Bartels said it would cost $182,285 in required repairs to put the plant back into production, with an additional $100,000 in unknown repairs in years to come.