While New England governors discussed ways to import hydropower from Canada this year, local businessmen were working to harness a water source closer to home: the Pawtuxet River in West Warwick.
At the 121-year-old Natick Pond Dam, North Kingstown developer Robert Cioe wants to build a 296-kilowatt hydropower plant using a piece of classical technology, called the Archimedes screw, never used for commercial energy generation before in the United States.
Named after the 3rd-century B.C. Greek thinker credited with inventing it, the screw was commonly used to pump water for more than a thousand years and more recently has become popular in Europe to generate electricity.
Cioe, whose recent projects include the Wickford Junction shopping center and parking garage, has owned land at the dam since 1968, and spent years trying to figure out a way to make a hydropower project work there.
The current project came together when Cioe was approached by New England Hydropower LLC, a Massachusetts-based firm partnered with a British company that’s built about 30 small hydroprojects in the United Kingdom using the Archimedes screw. The Pawtuxet project is being developed under the name JAL Hydro LLC.
New England Hydropower believes the old industrial-revolution-era dams dotting the region hold significant potential for power projects that could be tapped with Archimedes-screw systems.
“There are 10,000 legacy dams in New England and we have a proprietary approach to evaluate and analyze the viability of those dams,” said Chris Conover, chief marketing officer for New England Hydropower. “We are winnowing down from that total and there are other nonscrew folks looking at them. We think we are looking at hundreds that are viable in New England.”
At Natick Pond, New England Hydropower is working for Cioe, who will own the property, but Conover said the firm expects to do its own projects eventually.
In addition to the Natick Pond Dam, New England Hydropower CEO Michael Kerr told the R.I. Economic Development Corporation the company had studied a number of sites on the Pawtuxet and Blackstone rivers, including Pawtucket’s Slater Mill.