A federal license to generate hydroelectricity has been granted to the developer of artist loft housing in the former Pillsbury A Mill in Minneapolis, just four months before it needs to make the turbines spin to qualify for historic tax credits.

“It’ll be tight, but we should be able to get there,” said Neal Route, a development associate for Dominium, which is redeveloping the larger mill complex on the river’s East Bank. The firm has said that the tax credits make the hydro project feasible.

The project involves inserting large pipes and new turbine-generators in the historic water power canals in and near the A Mill, which once powered twin water wheels for flour milling. The license requires a public sign describing the mill’s history and the hydro project. Route said the firm also is working with Mill City Museum on offering tours of the hydro project.

The developer said that the plant will generate enough power to supply more than half the need of the 251 units of housing it is developing in the mill complex. The turbine-generator is rated at 600 kilowatts.

The planned hydroelectricity is one of three upper St. Anthony Falls power proposals that have been before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which approved the A Mill license Friday. The agency said the mill project must coordinate its power intake to help Xcel Energy maintain the federally required flow at the falls. Xcel generates 14 megawatts of power at the falls, where it has been operating since 1882.

The permit also requires Dominium to limit noise from installing and operating its generating equipment to avoid disturbing the tri-colored bat, which uses the adjacent Chute’s Cave for winter hibernation.

Meanwhile, Crown Hydro, which was granted a federal license in 1999, is trying to amend that controversial license to install generators in tunnels just outside the now-idle lock at the upper falls, on U.S. Army Corps of Engineers property. Symphony Hydro is making a revised effort to gain a license at the lock, where it proposes to install generators inside the lock that rolled up out of the way if the lock is opened for flood control. Each proposal seeks to use about five times the flow Dominium will use, and to generate 3.4 megawatts.


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