Ct. River hydroelectric relicensing starting

  • The Connecticut River, as seen from Falls Road in Sunderland. Recorder file photo

Recorder Staff
Wednesday, January 31, 2018

After more than five years of preliminary work, federal relicensing of the hydroelectric project along the Connecticut River is about to begin in earnest.

And the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, which has spent 20 years trying to control erosion upstream from the Turners Falls Dam, is ready to become an active participant in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

That means helping towns along the river that want to play a formal role, as preparing to file as a formal intervenor itself.

FERC, is conducting a comprehensive relicensing process not only for FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls hydroelectric plants, but also 3 of Great River Hydro’s Connecticut River projects in New Hampshire and Vermont — Vernon, Bellows Falls and Wilder.

Brookfield Renewable Energy’s Bear Swamp and Fife Brook projects on the Deerfield River are undergoing a separate license review, with a formal application expected on March 31.

Once the federal agency formally accepts their applications for relicensing, that will trigger a 60-day period for prospective intervenors in the process.

Up until now, the COG has played a role in the relicensing, along with the non-profit Connecticut River Conservancy, the Franklin Regional Planning Board was told last week by member Tom Miner, who has been its liaison on hydro relicensing and streambank erosion issues.

“It’s a very complex process,” said Miner, who was a former executive director of the conservancy when it was known as the Connecticut River Watershed Council.

In the same way that the COG intervened in FERC’s application for Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Access Northeast project and its assisting towns like Northfield, Montague, Warwick, Shelburne, Conway and Ashfield file for intervenor status, the regional planning staff has prepared a template for towns to prepare in advance for hydro relicensing.

“We wanted to give something to towns that they could adapt from, a kind of template, to submit once the clock starts,” Miner said.

The COG’s own intervention was approved in December by its executive committee in December, so that it can file during the short period. The templates are available to any towns that want to have a direct say representing their interests, so their applications have time to clear their selectboards, Miner said.

FirstLight’s license is due to expire to the end of April, and Miner predicted there will be a request to FERC for an extension. “Whether it’s one year or two years, I have no crystal ball,” said Miner, who has backed away from his role after several years of actively monitoring the relicensing process.

Filing of FirstLight’s FERC application signals the company’s completion of about 40 studies on fisheries, erosion and other issues, some of which CRC and the COG have disputed. Miner noted that the company has also been conducting confidential negotiations over a possible settlement agreement with CRC, the COG and other groups.

“Those are still ongoing,” said Miner. “It’s going to be a significant. All of those final (negotiated) proposals are going to be on the table within the next month, and there could be a negotiated agreement or proposals from any of the players that are incorporated int the FERC process. “Presumably that will be clarified in the spring.” Also ongoing are “stakeholder” meetings, being organized by the river conservancy, like one last fall with commercial whitewater outfits that are interested in being allowed to start up operations just below the Turners Falls Dam.