Nonprofit criticized for leniency with FirstLight

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Northfield Mountain turbine hall in Northfield. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/10/2022 7:05:05 PM

Holyoke-based energy regulatory nonprofit ISO New England is facing backlash from environmentalists for its leniency with FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.

Conway resident Priscilla Lynch, alongside the Connecticut River Defenders advocacy group, said in a statement that on Nov. 1, activists “used the public comment period (of ISO New England’s board of directors meeting) to address ISO’s lack of progress in transitioning to renewable energy and proper response to the ongoing climate emergency.” They called for ISO to withdraw its support for FirstLight’s participation on the grid and to not support the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing process that would continue authorized operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.

FirstLight, which has submitted its Amended Final License Application to FERC for a new 50-year license to operate, has three facilities up for relicensing. Those facilities — the hydro-pump facility at Northfield Mountain and two hydroelectric dams in Turners Falls — have been criticized for their impact on fish, the Connecticut River and the surrounding environment.

“Contrary to FirstLight’s greenwashing claims, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station is a fossil fuel operation,” Lake Pleasant resident Terisa Turner said in the statement. “It utilizes fossil fuels to suction the water backwards and to then pump the water up the mountain. This action kills everything in its path, from adult fish to tiny aquatic animals.”

In a statement provided by FirstLight Communications Manager Claire Belanger, the company refuted arguments made during the meeting’s public comment section.

“We are aware of the limited public comments made at a recent ISO meeting, which included several inaccurate statements about our Northfield Mountain facility and demonstrated a general lack of understanding of its operations and environmental impact,” the statement reads.

The statement continues by detailing the economic benefits of FirstLight’s operations before emphasizing a commitment to doing environmental due diligence.

“Finally, as part of our formal relicensing application to FERC, FirstLight has committed to $130 million in new investments to restore fish passage beyond the Turners Falls dam, eliminate the entrainment of fish into the Northfield Mountain upper pond, improve recreational opportunities and better support our host communities,” the statement reads. “These improvements will ensure that Northfield Mountain continues to provide incredible value to the commonwealth by addressing climate change while simultaneously investing in the future of our communities.”

Matt Kakley, lead communications specialist at ISO, described his organization as a “federally regulated nonprofit charged with administering the region’s wholesale electricity markets, operating the transmission system and planning for future power system needs.” In a message to the ISO board of directors, the Connecticut River Defenders criticized ISO for failing to uphold its mission.

“You, as directors working in the name of the people, have a mandate to assure that the contributors to our grid are responsible and trustworthy partners in the provision of services and the protection of the environment and our future,” the message reads. “FirstLight does not meet these standards.”

Lynch recapped that the Connecticut River Defenders “also addressed ISO’s claims that additional energy is needed on the grid during peak times, noting that there are only a few of these days throughout the year where conservation measures can and should be put into place.”

According to ISO, demand for electricity peaks in the summer, whereas a smaller peak occurs in the winter.

“There is no daily power emergency on the grid,” Greenfield resident Dodi Melnicoff argued, “and therefore no justification for the killing of a river and the use of fossil fuels to do so.”

Later in the Nov. 1 meeting, ISO CEO Gordon van Welie “presented on ISO’s strategic vision in moving New England toward a clean, reliable future grid,” according to Kakley. His presentation can be viewed at bit.ly/3DWWShl.

When Kakley was invited to respond to the Connecticut River Defenders, he emphasized the lack of affiliation between ISO and FirstLight.

“We do not own or operate any generation resources,” he said, “and have no investment in FirstLight or involvement in their relicensing process.”

FirstLight has indicated to FERC that it continues “to work on a finite list of remaining issues with the goal of filing a (Comprehensive Settlement Agreement) with FERC by Dec. 31, 2022,” according to the state’s website.

Reach Julian Mendoza at 413-930-4231 or jmendoza@recorder.com.


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