Site investigation is to start shortly for a US$2bn new type of hydropower scheme in New Jersey that calls for major tunnelling, and the venture fund-backed developer aims to build four similar projects in North America. The developer, Riverbank Power Corp, plans to locate the first project at Limecrest quarry near Sparta, NJ. The company is backed by venture investor Blackrock.

If the geotechnical data prove favourable, Riverbank envisages that the approval and construction period of approximately four years to bring the huge, 1GW plant into service by 2015.

The design calls for a grid of caverns and tunnels to be excavated approximately 610m below the quarry. The tunnels would hold the powerhouse and also a lower reservoir of water that would be re-circulated with the flooded quarry, acting as an upper reservoir. Riverbank calls the “closed-loop” system Aquabank.

Local Government in Sparta backs the project for its proposed inward investment, land use and construction employment. The developer notes that the scheme would also contribute to the state’s goals on renewables generation and jobs.

Riverbank said that it plans at least five Aquabank projects across North America and that Sparta was one of the most favourable sites, where it is collaborating with property owner Limecrest Quarry Developers in studies for the project.

Apart from providing valuable peak power capacity to the electricity grid, the business strategy in developing these schemes that would call for significant tunnelling works comes from the flexibility of their location. Proximity to key load centres can improve grid stability in general but also to assist in the massive introduction in wind power, which fluctuates and so its inputs needs balanced.