FERC asked to act at Northfield Mtn. Project

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/22/2016 11:04:53 PM

The Connecticut River Watershed Council has once again called on federal authorities to deny a temporary change in how the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project is allowed to operate.

The council said “Any scenario that involves moving additional water in and out of the Connecticut River comes at a price for the riverbanks.”

The Greenfield-based environmental nonprofit is again attempting to control erosion along a 20-mile stretch of bank by intervening in plans to pump more water to and from the river to generate electricity.

The council has filed the intervention request before the Federal Energy Regulatory Federal Commission, which is reviewing FirstLight Power’s application for a temporary license amendment for Northfield Mountain.

The company, repeating a pattern that it began 2001, sought FERC approval in September for a temporary amendment in its operating license from Dec. 1 through March 31 to once again boost water-storage capacity of its mountaintop reservoir. The change, which has been approved on a temporary basis several times, would allow an additional 22 feet of pumping capacity at Northfield Mountain’s 5-billion-gallon reservoir by changing upper and lower water surface elevation limits “to increase its operational flexibility and provide (the regional power pool) with additional energy reserves to deal with potential reliability challenges in New England this winter.”

The Watershed Council, arguing, “There is no basis to effectively institutionalize a detrimental practice, contends that FERC’s application presents “insufficient analysis on the winter of 2015-2016, and includes no information on the cumulative impact of the requested changes for three winters in a row.”

While the motion to intervene acknowledges the region faces concerns about system reliability because of retirement of several large, mostly nuclear and coal-fired generators, along with an increased demand for natural gas this winter, the council says it “supports increasing the reliability and storage capacity of the New England grid, but not at the expense of avoidable environmental harm.”

FirstLight contends the proposed change would be in the public interest by providing additional operational flexibility without adverse environmental impacts, and the region’s independent system operator has submitted to FERC an Oct. 26 letter in support, the council says the company has provided no analysis that there would be no adverse environmental impact.

Before the winter of 2014-2015, temporary license amendments authorized changes to minimum and maximum reservoir elevation requirement only under certain emergency operating conditions as determined by the Independent System Operator so that operational changes were rare, the watershed council pointed out.

“Under this proposed amendment, if approved, there are no such restrictions, allowing for use of the expanded upper reservoir every day during the winter, if desired,” the application Monday said. “The current application requests a temporary amendment for the third winter in a row, and we have seen frequent use of the additional flexibility during the previous two winters. Operations that are detrimental and exacerbate existing erosion problems should not become the norm. Operational changes should be reserved solely for emergencies; otherwise any operational changes should be to remedy erosion issues, not make them worse.”

If approved at all, the changes should be restricted to ISO-New England’s specific declarations of “abnormal conditions on the region’s power system,” the council says. But it argues that FirstLight has not demonstrated in its data that there’s been no environmental effect from past amendments since comparisons are made, for example, with a six-month period when one of the plant’s four pump-generators was offline, and repair work to stabilize banks has been showing signs of failure.

A half-foot difference in reservoir elevation levels during a 2015-2016 amendment period “has the potential to impact the effectiveness of bank restoration projects that have been implemented up and down the river,” it says, “because bank stabilization treatments were designed with the toe of the slope being set at a particular typical elevation range, and a 6-inch change during the previous two winters is a change from that design specification.”


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