Greening Greenfield to hold online forum on FirstLight relicensing process

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Turners Falls dam. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

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

  • FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s Cabot Station turbine hall in Turners Falls. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 1/20/2022 3:56:57 PM

GREENFIELD — Greening Greenfield, an organization that advocates for increased energy and environmental sustainability, is hosting an online event to discuss how to best advocate for a more robust public hearing process for FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s relicensing from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

The panel, according to a press release from Greening Greenfield’s Nancy Hazard, is necessitated by the community’s frustration regarding FirstLight’s slow relicensing process and concern over the company’s environmental ethics. The event will be held Monday at 7 p.m.

The Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP), which will be reviewing FirstLight’s Water Quality Certificate application, currently plans two public hearings, but according to Greening Greenfield’s Peg Hall, further details remain a mystery. Greening Greenfield members hope their panel can inform concerned locals on how to best take action, with an end goal of certifying that the department ensures that FirstLight’s relicensing process results in appropriate environmental regulations.

FirstLight, owned by Canadian-based PSP Investments, applied for a 50-year Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license in December 2020, which will determine how its Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Dam facilities operate for the next half-century.

Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey said in August that this latest relicensing procedure has been “at least a seven-year process.”

“We want to create a tsunami of letters to the DEP now, requesting that they hold a robust public hearings process, so that the public has the opportunity to talk about the river and the issues in time to make a difference in the conditions attached to the Water Quality Certificate,” Hall said in a statement.

According to Hazard, state Rep. Natalie Blais, state Sen. Jo Comerford and Andrea Donlon of the Connecticut River Conservancy “will briefly share their involvement in the relicensing process to date, and help us all better understand the process and the power of the Water Quality Certificate.” In addition, the officials “will share insights into what kind of comments would be most meaningful and influential during the public comment period.” Presentations will be followed by a question-and-answer session.

“While we will not be focusing on ideas for ‘conditions’ to be included in the certificate during this event, now is a good time to start thinking about what we want to request,” Hazard said.

The three facilities up for relicensing — a hydro-pump facility at Northfield Mountain and two hydroelectric dams in Turners Falls — have been criticized for their impact on the river and surrounding environment. The Connecticut River Conservancy has said the dams have affected fish migration, and that the changes in river flow have impacted wildlife habitats and caused excessive erosion of the riverbanks. The Northfield Mountain hydro-pump storage facility has also been criticized for its impact on fish populations.

“One thing that really annoys me is FirstLight’s impact on our river,” Hazard said. “They use it as their own private lower reservoir for their Northfield Pumped Storage operations, but it is a river, not a reservoir. This has caused unacceptable destruction to the riverbanks and all life in it.”

FirstLight maintains that it has done its due diligence in terms of fielding public desires. In a statement, FirstLight’s Head of Government Affairs and Communications Len Greene wrote that “actively engaged” discussions with “over 20 local stakeholder organizations” have yielded a “considerable investment of time, insight and valuable dialogue that’s been put into the engagement process.”

“As the Greening Greenfield site notes, large-scale storage facilities like Northfield Mountain are poised to play a critical role in decarbonizing the region’s electrical grid by integrating large-scale intermittent renewable energy sources such as future offshore wind and utility-scale solar projects, and store it for times when it is needed,” he wrote. “Under the state’s DEP process, there will be additional opportunities for public participation, and we support a robust engagement process on these critical renewable energy assets that deliver clean, reliable and cost-competitive power to the region.”

To register and find out more about the online event, go to GreeningGreenfieldMA.org and click on the photo of the Connecticut River, or send an email to info@GreeningGreenfieldMA.org. Registration is required and is limited to 100 participants.


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