FirstLight power company to restructure

  • The Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Facility, operated by FirstLight Hydro Generating Co., uses water from the Connecticut River. Staff File Photo/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 7/23/2019 10:13:53 PM

In response to the news that federal regulators are allowing the FirstLight Hydro Generating Co. to restructure itself into multiple smaller companies, the three towns on the Connecticut River that could be affected by the power company’s operations are wary, but not sure yet whether to take legal action.

The relevant towns are Montague, where FirstLight operates two hydro-electric power plants; Northfield, where the company operates a hydro-pump machine at Northfield Mountain; and Gill, in between the two others on the Connecticut River.

So far, all three of those power facilities have operated as a single company. In December, FirstLight requested that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) allow the company to restructure into two smaller companies — one in Montague and one in Northfield — which would both be owned by a single parent company.

The company characterized the proposed restructuring as “purely a ‘paper transaction’” to suit the two locations’ different business models, in a letter from company President John Shue to the Montague Selectboard.

“Their explanation seems somewhat plausible,” said Montague Selectboard Chairman Rich Kuklewicz at Monday’s board meeting.

Yet some town officials are concerned about potential repercussions from the restructuring. Gill Town Administrator Ray Purington said the town is considering how the restructuring may affect property values.

The other major concern is whether the restructuring would limit FirstLight’s responsibility to maintain the Connecticut River. If federal regulators recognize the two locations as two separate, smaller businesses, would each one then be liable only for the portion of the river that it immediately affects? If so, and if one location were more profitable than the other, would the less profitable be less liable for river health?

Local governments and advocacy groups tend to see the two locations as being interconnected.

“Their operations affect each other, and therefore their profits would be linked to each other,” said Andrea Donlon a steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy.

“It’s all part of the same machine, if you will,” Kuklewicz said.

The three towns, the Franklin Regional Council of Governments and several local advocacy groups have legal standing to appeal FERC’s decision to allow FirstLight’s restructuring, but so far have not made any move to do so.

Northfield Selectboard Chairman Alex Meisner said that the town is watching the situation, but does not yet have any reason to be concerned.

The Gill Selectboard was wary of the restructuring, but unsure of whether legal action would be worth the cost.

“Isn’t there an expression somewhere along the lines of, ‘Silence is complicity?’” said Gill Selectboard Chairman John Ward at Monday’s board meeting.

“I know silence is complicity,” said Gill Selectman Randy Crochier. “But it’s hard to know what to act on when you don’t have any information.”

Reach Max Marcus at mmarcus@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 261.


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