Bike-riding activists will convene April 20 to protest FirstLight

The turbine hall at FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

The turbine hall at FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO/FIRSTLIGHT HYDRO GENERATING CO.

By JULIAN MENDOZA

For the Recorder

Published: 04-12-2024 5:08 PM

Modified: 04-12-2024 7:13 PM


A local group of bike-riding activists will ride together again for the first time in a decade, this time in protest of FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

The Solar Rollers, a grassroots advocacy group that protests through bike rides and rallies, first rode to Seabrook, New Hampshire, from Amherst in 1978 to protest the construction of a twin nuclear reactor. The “Connecticut River Earth Day Ride” on Saturday, April 20, which calls for the shutdown of FirstLight’s flagship energy storage facility, will mark their first ride together since 2014.

The idea to revitalize the group, primarily an anti-nuclear group until now, was brought about by Solar Roller Terry Plotkin, who felt its mission aligned with those opposing Northfield Mountain’s operations, according to Gary Seldon, a member of the Connecticut River Defenders advocacy group and one of the event’s organizers.

FirstLight, which is seeking a new 50-year license to operate from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), has three facilities up for relicensing — the hydro-pump facility at Northfield Mountain and two hydroelectric dams in Turners Falls. These have been criticized by environmental advocacy groups for impacts on fish, the Connecticut River and surrounding environment.

“This facility could never be licensed today,” David Detmold, a Montague resident and founding member of the Solar Rollers, said in a statement. “Northfield Mountain kills millions of fish and pumps millions of dollars out of our local economy each year for the sole benefit of FirstLight’s owner, a Canadian pension firm, PSP Investments. Northfield Mountain consumes more power than it produces every day it operates. For the health of our river, Northfield Mountain should be shut down immediately.”

“We reject corporate energy projects that destroy our environment and endanger local resources — and populations — for private profit,” Court Dorsey, a Wendell resident and member of partnered advocacy group No Assault & Batteries, added in the statement. “We say, ‘No false climate solutions. Let’s talk about safer alternatives.’”

FirstLight Communications Manager Claire Belanger said in a statement that those at FirstLight “do not agree with the characterizations made about FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Hydro Storage Station,” but “respect the perspectives of advocates and activists and their right to conduct peaceful and safe demonstrations.”

“Like every battery, whether it is in your phone, electric vehicle or TV remote, Northfield Mountain’s ‘battery’ uses more energy to ‘pump’ or charge than it produces. However, that doesn’t make it any less critical or beneficial,” she continued. “The value of energy storage is to store energy for times when it is most needed.”

Multiple rallies, fundraiser planned

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Seldon labeled the Solar Rollers “an amorphous group” that welcomes all interested cyclists to join their cause. The day will begin with a send-off rally at the Greenfield Common at around 9 a.m. Riders will depart and convene again with a rally of local supporters near Unity Park in Turners Falls at 11 a.m. From there, the ride will continue on to the Riverview Picnic Area at 144 Pine Meadow Road in Northfield, where another rally will take place at 1 p.m. They will be joined by on-foot protesters walking from Cabot Camp beneath the French King Bridge starting at noon.

The rain date for the bicycle ride, walking procession and rallies is Sunday, April 21.

In addition to the events on April 20, there will be an information and benefit session at The People’s Pint in Greenfield on Wednesday, April 17, at 4:30 p.m. All proceeds from the sales of oatmeal stout through April 17 will benefit the Solar Rollers’ advocacy efforts.