Journalist to speak on FirstLight as part of ‘Environmental Sundays’ series

By JULIAN MENDOZA

Staff Writer

Published: 02-03-2023 7:41 PM

GREENFIELD — Frustrated by a lack of progress in FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s controversial relicensing process, environmental journalist Karl Meyer will deliver a talk at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew as part of the church’s “Environmental Sundays” series.

Meyer’s talk, scheduled for Feb. 19 at 11:30 a.m., will detail the impact that FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station has on the Connecticut River, “a process that has thrived on secrecy for decades,” according to Meyer. The free Environmental Sunday series will be hosted on the third Sunday of every month by the church’s Green Team environmentalist group.

FirstLight, which previously submitted its Amended Final License Application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (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 by environmental advocacy groups for their impact on fish, the Connecticut River and the surrounding environment.

Last month, FirstLight finalized its hydropower-related flows and fish passage plans. The Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement portion of the relicensing process entails future operations related to fish passage and protected, threatened and endangered species, according to a statement provided by Claire Belanger, communications manager at FirstLight. The company still needs to reach a comprehensive settlement agreement and must update FERC on the status of negotiations by March 31.

According to a sermon previously delivered by Green Team member Ella Ingraham, in November 2017, the Diocese of Western Massachusetts Convention recommended the formation of parish Green Teams “to expand environmental activities and help congregations connect their faith with sustainable living.”

“We are part of international efforts, the national Episcopal Church’s efforts and our diocese efforts to make a difference in the environmental and social impacts of climate change and environmental pollution,” Ingraham read.

Ingraham said she deemed Meyer a fitting guest of the Green Team’s Environmental Sunday series once she learned the gravity of the Connecticut River’s condition.

“I have to say … speaking as a member of the general public, I had no idea the issues Northfield Mountain presents,” she recalled. “We’re just fortunate Karl Meyer is in our neighborhood and willing to speak because it really seems like a regional issue.”

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“This is sort of a new opportunity and I’m really grateful for an opportunity to shed light on the topic for some new people,” Meyer said, noting that he has never spoken at a church before. “I’m really thrilled that people are interested and invested enough to invite me.”

Meyer “has been studying and writing about the impact of Northfield Mountain for years,” Ingraham explained in an announcement about the talk. Meyer previously described FirstLight’s operations as “an unbroken conveyor belt of death for the annual killing of hundreds of millions of fish and aquatic animals,” as well as “a grid parasite.” The river is, in fact, no longer a river by definition, given the state of its ecosystem and FirstLight’s obstruction of the water’s regular flow, Meyer argued.

“In a year, I remember that I calculated that they wasted enough energy to power enough of Suffolk County for an entire year,” he added.

In a letter he submitted to FERC on Jan. 10, Meyer stressed that is has been “now four years and eight months that FirstLight has continued operating the deadly Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project via a license that expired on April 30, 2018.”

Ingraham assured that Meyer’s concerns have a home at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew. Meyer seconded the notion that the church is an appropriate place for a lecture of this nature, acknowledging it as “a place where people go to think deeply.”

“The Episcopal Church worldwide is making climate change and environmental crisis a focus,” Ingraham said. “If you look at any of the things for the Episcopal Church, they’re really taking a leadership role and saying we need to be living a different life.”

The next Green Team event will be held on March 19 and feature local advocacy group Youth Climate Action Now. New York-based environmentalist Aaron Mair, president of the Sierra Club environmentalist organization’s board of directors, will speak on April 16.

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

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