Anne O’Connor


TOWNSEND — Restoration work on the old Grist Mill has ground to halt.

The Townsend Historical Society lost the promised grant money when it was determined the group needed a license to run a hydro-electric plant on the Squannacook River.

Some work has already been done at the mill. Repairs have been made to the building and the turbine was removed. It is being stored outside in Shepherd’s yard next door until it can be worked on.

Jock Snaith, a director of the society, has been spearheading the restoration efforts. He has worked with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the Mass. Technology Collaborative and private consultants to research and fund the project.

“We’ve had a setback. We had to apply to FERC to see whether or not we needed to have a license,” he said.

“Basically we believed we were grandfathered in,” Snaith said. “The mill was in operation before the regulatory commission (existed).”

The society received a grant of $87,000 from MTC to remove and restore the existing turbine. This money has been held back since the finding was made that a license is needed.

The turbine was originally used to power a millstone used to grind grain. When restored, the turbine could generate about 135,000 kilowat hours of electricity per year, enough to power up to 17 homes.

The plan was to produce enough energy to run the society’s buildings and sell the remaining power back to the utility company. Snaith said the operation was intended to be educational, not commercial.

A hydroelectric plant license is needed because the society plans to put power back on the grid. “If we used it all behind the meter, we wouldn’t need to apply,” he said.

“The board basically felt is was best to go for the license,” Snaith said. He said the group will begin work applying for the license this month.

The project is far from over and still has a lot of support according to Snaith. “My contact at FERC raved about the project,” he said. “It’s unique.”

It will require funding for work on the project to resume. For now Snaith will concentrate on applying for the license and closing up the building.

“There’s a lot of paperwork to be filed,” he said. “It can be prohibitive.” There may need to be environmental and navigational studies to see how the turbine would affect the river.

The society needs to raise money for this and other projects. “The financial situation is horrible,” Snaith said. A capital fund drive is in the planning stages.

Snaith is optimistic about the mill’s future. “We’re a historical society. We’re around for the long term,” he said. “We’ve been at it for 100 years and will keep on going.”