FERC gets fight on FirstLight’s river study

  • Pine trees along the Connecticut River in Erving are dusted with fresh snow as seen from the French King Bridge, Monday, December 5, 2016.

Recorder Staff
Published: 12/18/2016 10:18:48 PM

The Franklin Regional Planning Board and the Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee have responded formally to a study that largely clears Northfield Mountain pumped storage project of blame for river bank erosion.

The response to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about FirstLight’s operation of the hydroelectric project criticizes the methodology used and arguments made in the study, which was submitted in September. The study is part of a relicensing application for hydroelectric plants along the river.

That study concludes that the hydroelectric facility is responsible for only 4 percent of the erosion caused along the banks in the 20-mile river segment between the Turners Falls and Vernon, Vt. dams.

“Despite this extensive scientific literature, FirstLight claims that most of the erosion in the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) is due to the ‘natural’ erosion that happens during high flows in an undammed, unregulated river. FirstLight goes so far as to draw comparisons between the erosion in the TFI and erosion seen in ‘natural alluvial’ rivers in Yellowstone and Glacier National Parks.”

The letter, signed by Franklin Regional Council of Governments Executive Director Linda Dunlavy, planning board Chair Jerry Lund and streambank erosion committee chair Tom Miner, faults “FirstLight’s bias and lack of scientific rigor in their geomorphic analysis” and concludes, “We are very concerned that our opportunity to collect food data and apply sound scientific methods to analyze how the hydropower facilities are impacting the river — water quality, geomorphic function, bank erosion, etc. — is slipping away and may be lost for the next 30-to-50-year period of the new license.”

The underground pumped-storage power plant uses Connecticut River water pumped up the mountain overnight, when electricity prices are lowest, and releases it when there is peak demand and prices are highest, providing the region’s electricity grid with 1,168 megawatts of power.

“This huge, ongoing experiment, which began over 40 years ago, will essentially continue unmonitored for another 30 to 50 years if FERC doesn’t require (FirstLight) to rigorously examine the impacts of the hydropower projects on the river and provide … (government agencies and non-government organizations) with sufficient information to craft FERC license articles and a 401 water quality certificate that adequately protects the local, regional and national treasure that is the Connecticut River.”

The response to the study was one of several that were submitted to FERC to meet the filing deadline for comments.

Miner told The Recorder, “FirstLight and its consultants have treated the Connecticut River (in its analysis) like a normal river, without any dams, an alluvial. And it is anything but that. It’s been manipulated for over a century, and that manipulation has been complicated further by the operation of the pumped storage, which daily cycles the surface of the river up and down. And as such, we really question the validity of their conclusions.”

A new license for the project is scheduled be to be issued in April 2018.

On the Web: http://bit.ly/2h9z5iO

You can reach Richie Davis at: rdavis@recorder.com

or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

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