Subterranean power

TWO Scandinavian companies are trying to replicate the fruitless toil of Sisyphus, a Greek mythological character who was given the task of pushing uphill a stone that would at once roll down again. The difference will be that the Kvaerner Group, a Norwegian industrial company, and Asea Brown Boveri, a Swedish electrical equipment maker, will use water instead of the stone. Their purpose: trapping electrical power. Because the demand for power varies during the day, they propose to use cheap, nighttime electricity to pump water up a half-mile deep hole in a hill near New York City and then let it flow down, spinning generators to produce electricity during peak demand periods.

"Pumped storage plants", as these unusual power generators are known, are a means of dealing with the troublesome nature of electricity -- it must be consumed as it is generated and is difficult to store. Although a pump storage plant is a net consumer of electricity -- since not all energy in the falling water is converted into electricity and power must be imported to pump it uphill -- the companies feel that the Mount Hope project could provide reserves and balance for the power demand in and around New York City.

The pumped storage plant would require a 22-ha, 6 billion-litre reservoir at a nearby rock quarry. It would be connected to underground generating equipment through a 853-metre vertical shaft. The half-a-mile plunge will give the water enough energy to drive 6 turbines and generators putting out a maximum of 2,000 megawatts.