UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

BEFORE THE

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

 

In re:                                                  )

FirstLight Hydro Generating Company)         Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, No. 2485-070

 

 

MOTION TO INTERVENE AND COMMENTS

OF THE

CONNECTICUT RIVER WATERSHED COUNCIL, INC.

IN THE ABOVE APPLICATION

FOR AMENDMENT OF MINIMUM AND MAXIMUM RESERVOIR ELEVATION REQUIREMENT

 

 

The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (herein “CRWC”) hereby moves for leave to intervene to the above referenced application for amendment of license filed by FirstLight Hydro Generating Company on September 1, 2015, pursuant to the Notice dated September 29, 2015, published by the Commission and Rule 214 of the Commission’s Rules of Practice, 18 C.F.R. § 385.214 and related.

  1. Statement of Interest

CRWC is a nonprofit watershed organization that has an interest in protecting environmental values that directly and indirectly support the state, regional, and local economies and quality of life in the Project area. The Connecticut River and the rich agricultural soils of the surrounding valley bottom are the resources that define this region of Massachusetts, Vermont, and New Hampshire. The ecological and cultural importance of the Connecticut River was recognized by the federal government in the 1990s when the river was designated an American Heritage River and the watershed a National Fish and Wildlife Refuge and most recently in 2012 as the first National Blueway by Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar.

The Connecticut River provides water-related recreational opportunities for swimming, boating and fishing, as well as drawing both residents and tourists who enjoy walking, bicycling, hiking, camping, and nature observation along its banks. Within the reach of the Connecticut River known as the Turners Falls pool, FirstLight Hydro Generating Company (“FirstLight”) operates popular campsites, picnic sites, and a tour boat in the project area. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts operates two state-owned boat launches in the reach.

CRWC’s interests include the prime agricultural and recreational lands and economy of the valley; the improvement of water quality; enhancing aquatic and related terrestrial habitat; protecting and restoring the several threatened and endangered plant and animal species of the valley; preserving wetlands, undeveloped shore lands, and the many significant archaeological, cultural, and historical sites of the valley; and enhancing the aesthetics of the region. These interests are not adequately represented by other parties to this proceeding.

CRWC is concerned about the proposal to expand the upper reservoir limit between December 1 and March 31 for every year remaining in the license. Prior to the winter of 2014-2015, temporary amendments to the license were made based on a specific request from ISO-NE and the changes were authorized only under certain emergency operating conditions as determined by ISO-NE. Consequently, the operational changes were somewhat rare during the winter period. Last winter, and under the amended license, if approved, there are no such conditions, allowing for use of the expanded upper reservoir every day during the winter, if desired.

  1. Description of CRWC

The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (CRWC) is a nonprofit citizen group that was established in 1952 to advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its four-state watershed. The Council’s members use and are concerned about the area of the Connecticut River affected by the presence and operation of the Northfield Pumped Storage Project and the Turners Falls Project (FERC Project No. 1889). CRWC is an active member of Connecticut River Streambank Erosion Committee (CRSEC), and as a member of the committee, has been working with the owners of the Project to address erosion in the Turners Falls pool, including development of bioengineering river bank stabilization projects that are part of the Erosion Control Plan ordered and approved by the FERC. CRWC advocates for the protection of water quality and habitat on the river, as well as the environmentally-responsible use of the river. As such, CRWC has been an active stakeholder participating in the ongoing relicensing of Northfield Mountain, Turners Falls Dam, Vernon Dam (No. 1904), Bellows Falls Dam (No. 1855), and Wilder Dam (No. 1892). CRWC has intervened in the Holyoke Dam (FERC No. 2004), Canaan Dam (No. 7528), and Fifteen Mile Falls (No. 2077) projects on the Connecticut River.

III. Statement of Position and Comments on Application for License Amendment

There is a long history of riverbank erosion associated with Northfield Mountain pumped storage project ever since Turners Falls Dam was raised and operation of Northfield Mountain began in 1972. As stated above, CRWC has been an active member of the CRSEC, which has worked with the applicant for many years on erosion control projects in support of the Erosion Control Plan that was prepared because of landowner concerns about the loss of valuable farmland. A study prepared for Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project in 2007 stated, “Several aspects of the erosion in the Turners Falls Pool … are consistent with the possibility that erosion is enhanced by pool fluctuations.[1]

CRWC is aware that New England is currently experiencing the retirement of several large power plants (mostly coal and nuclear), and this, together with an increased demand for natural gas, is contributing to worries about the reliability of electrical transmission in the region during the winter. FirstLight has argued in its application on page 5 that the proposed amendment is in the public interest because it will provide ISO-New England (ISO-NE) with additional operational flexibility without adverse environmental impacts. On October 1, 2014, ISO-NE submitted to FERC a letter supportive of the license amendment.

CRWC disagrees that FirstLight has adequately demonstrated no adverse environmental impacts from the proposed license amendment. FirstLight has provided flawed information and has withheld other information concerning river and bank conditions from last year’s temporary amendment. We also disagree that the license amendment is necessarily in the public interest for the entire term of the existing license, as explained below.

Required report from the winter 2014-2015 amendment is poorly done and incomplete

FERC’s November 26, 2014 Order Granting Temporary Amendment required the licensee to file a report comparing the 2014 and 2015 annual cross-sectional surveys of 20 transects. In addition, FERC’s order stated, “…the licensee must include in this report monthly charts plotting lower reservoir elevations recorded during the 4-month amendment period against the same baseline water elevations used in the charts attached to its August 8, 2014 amendment application, or against other baseline data that may be determined to be a more appropriate representation of baseline conditions for this winter.”

On September 1, 2015, FirstLight filed a letter to FERC in response to FERC’s November 26, 2014 Order. The letter included Attachment A – Summary Report Comparing 2014 and 2015 Surveyed Transects in the Turners Falls Impoundment. The report had the following shortcomings:

  1. Cross-sectional surveys were scaled to make any impacts invisible. FirstLight’s September 1, 2015 Summary Report includes Figures A-1 through A-22 showing 22 transect surveys. The problem with these figures is that they show the entire cross-section of the river, including the river bottom, which makes the scale of the x-axes small enough that any changes to the banks would not be easily seen. Moreover, it is not clear which part of the cross-section is typically under water. In order to analyze the impacts of the license amendment conditions over time, these transect survey figures must be split into the left and right bank sides, with a figure more like that shown in TransCanada’s September 14, 2015 Updated Study Report, Figures 2-1 through 2-3, but with numbers on the axes as currently in the FirstLight transect figures. Figure 2-2 from TransCanada’s Updated Study Report is attached for illustrative purposes.

FirstLight has used these cross-sectional surveys to make the argument that the amendment will result in “minimal, if any, environmental effects.” CRWC believes such a conclusion is not possible to make. We note that the field work for the 2015 cross-section surveys was completed in June of 2015, only two months and a few weeks after the 2014 temporary amendment conditions ceased. If amendment conditions as requested in this present application impact erosion from changes in operation, erosion does not necessarily happen instantaneously; instead, it can take months to years to play out. And of course, erosion can also happen at sites other than the 22 transect locations.

  1. Monthly charts plotting lower reservoir elevations do not meet FERC requirements. Figures B-1 through B-4 show the Turners Falls Impoundment Elevations measured at the Turners Falls Dam for December, 2014, and January, February, and March of 2015. Instead of plotting these months against baseline water elevations, as required by FERC, FirstLight included a composite graph of the entire season’s fluctuation delta duration curve against other years. This graph does not fulfill the FERC Order, and it eliminates the ability to see daily fluctuations as well as see how the water level varies around a mean level, compared to baseline conditions. We include, below, the actual December 2014 impoundment graph FirstLight submitted on September 1, 2015, along with the modeled December graph from the 2014 amendment application to illustrate how these two graphs superimposed would tell a more interesting story. It also indicates some differences in the model vs. the actual that require further explanation. For example, the modeled baseline and the modeled amendment predicted maximum impoundment elevations exceeding 183 ft msl approximately two to three times, but in reality, the maximum impoundment exceeded 183 ft msl about half the days in December 2014, and reached a high of 184 msl two times.

 

Applicant fails to provide data and analysis on river changes from license amendment in 2014-15

Under the license amendment, the upper reservoir minimum and maximum elevation limits would be changed so that the reservoir has an increased operating range of 22 feet between December 1 and March 31 of each year remaining in the current license. While the lower reservoir (i.e., Connecticut River) elevation range will be the same, the amendment would allow for larger volumes of water to move between the river and the upper reservoir, typically on a sub-daily basis. Moving more water means likely changes in the pattern of raising and lowering the river level. Changes in pattern – average river level, as well as time duration changes and height changes in wetting and drying the banks — can contribute to increased erosion, and this erosion can take some time to be evident.

In its temporary amendment application filed last year on August 8, 2014 (herein referred to as “2014 application”), FirstLight stated on page 13 that a model showed only a limited average difference in the daily minimum water levels, and that the range of daily reservoir elevation variation would only slightly increase.

We now have one winter of operational data for the conditions requested in this license amendment application, which can help us understand potential changes to river level patterns under the license amendment. But, in the 2015 application dated September 1, 2015 (herein referred to as the “2015 application”), FirstLight referenced Exhibit E of the 2014 application showing modeled conditions, and has not included any modified graphs indicating how actual conditions from the temporary amendment period of the winter 2014-2015 compared against the modeled or baseline conditions. In 2014, CRWC and CRSEC expressed concerns in a Motion to Intervene and Comments that the figures in Exhibit E showed different fluctuation changes between modeled and “baseline.” The 2015 application does not contain the graphs from the 2014 application with actual data from the winter of 2014-2015 that would allow us to evaluate our concerns or the validity of the model.

FirstLight has acknowledged one pattern change: the 2015 application on page 11 states, “While the median elevation of the Turners Falls Impoundment was slightly higher during a portion of the 2014-2015 winter than previous winters (a median elevation of approximately 181.7 feet msl compared to a median elevation of 181.2 feet msl), this did not result in any observable environmental impacts.” At CRSEC meetings, we have heard FirstLight’s consultants acknowledge that some riverbank restoration projects have not been as successful as others when they were designed with the toe of the slope at an elevation that turned out to be different than the typical water line (for example, the Shearer property), with notching and undercutting of the bank occurring above the top of the stone toe.   We believe that a change in the median elevation of 6 inches, therefore, can impact the effectiveness of bank restoration projects that have been implemented up and down the river, and may contribute to erosion elsewhere. We also note that observations indicating no increased erosion since last winter is not conclusive by any means. Erosion impacts can take multiple years to become visibly evident.

FirstLight has tried to assuage concerns over operation changes, by stating on page 17 of the 2015 application that, “the amount of both pumping and generation that occurred in the winter of 2014-2015 was very similar to previous winters, and indicative as to how the storage is likely to be used in future winters.” We disagree that generation last winter was similar to recent previous winters, and we don’t know how FirstLight could possibly predict what it will do in future winters under a rapidly changing electrical generation landscape.

According to FirstLight and TransCanada’s “Statement of Generation of Hydropower Annual Charges” and “Annual Generation Report,” submitted to FERC this month, both Turners Falls Dam and Vernon Dam generated less power in gross kilowatt hours between October 1, 2014 to September 30, 2015 than they did during the previous year. In fact, Turners Falls generated the lowest amount of power during this period than the previous 10 years. By comparison, Northfield Mountain generated over 1 billion gross kilowatt hours, something that hadn’t happened since 2008. We doubt that the temporary amendment during the winter had no impact on this statistic. And we continue to believe that the license amendment, if approved, would lead to changes in river elevation patterns that could impact erosion along the banks and the integrity of previous bank stabilization projects, particularly those designed with a riprap toe of slope. As noted above, significant notching and undercutting has occurred at these sites.

License amendment for duration of the license is not in the public interest

CRWC concurs that an amended license can enable Northfield Mountain to help provide stability to the electric grid when regional generation is struggling to meet demand. That may be the case this winter. But, there is good reason to question whether reliability will be an issue during for the winters for the remainder of the license.[2]

A recent study completed by Synapse Energy Economics, Inc.[3] estimated the potential for as much as 2,855 MW of installed capacity from new distributed generation (DG) resources in New England by 2021. This report explains that ISO does not account for any DG resources in its analysis of system needs and that ISO’s forecasts assume zero MW of new DG will be installed by 2021. This report on Table 5 puts the current (2013) DG capacity installed in New England states at 908 MW. It also cites ISO’s estimate of installed photovoltaic by the end of 2021 of 800 MW. Given a rapidly changing landscape of electrical generation and renewable energy contracts in New England, in which DG may in fact surpass the generating capacity of retiring power plants, there is no guarantee that there will be reliability issues in the regional grid in 2017, 2018, 2019, or beyond. Neither FirstLight nor ISO-NE has made any convincing arguments about reliability needs for the remaining term of the existing license; therefore CRWC does not support a permanent license change.

  1. Recommendations

We think more information needs to be provided, and oppose approving this amendment for the term of the existing license. Our recommendations to this effect follow.

  1. We recommend that FERC require a revision to the September 1, 2015 memorandum with the Summary Report as follows:

1)  FirstLight should re-submit the transect figures to show only the left and the right banks of the transects, from the typical low water line to the top of the bank, in a scale that makes the separate lines on the banks visible. See attachment showing TransCanada’s format.

2)  FirstLight should re-submit the monthly Turners Falls impoundment graphs for 2014-2015 showing the actual data vs. the modeled and the baseline.

  1. We recommend that FERC require a supplement to the application for the amendment showing the following information:

1)  The supplement should include a graph showing the Connecticut River at Montague USGS gage for Dec 1 – March 31 for the years 2000-2015, with last winter shown in a bold line. The figure should be similar to Figure E 1.0-3 in the 2014 application.

2)  The supplement should include graphs identical to Figures E 1.0-4 through 1.0-24, but adding a line or bar showing actual (temporary amendment) conditions for December 1, 2014-March 31, 2015.

  1. After these submittals, we recommend that FERC review the data and make a decision that applies to this year only, not the entire term of the license.
  2. If FERC approves the amendment for this year or beyond, we recommend that FERC require the applicant to do the following in order to ensure that credible data is obtained and made available to the public:
  • Resurvey transects, but use the transects that were chosen for Relicensing Study 3.1.2[4]. Do not use the 22 long term transects as shown in the September 1, 2015 report. Some of these transects are not terribly useful, but the study sites for 3.1.2 were chosen with consideration given to many different factors. The figures of the bank profiles should not include the middle of the river, but only the left and right banks. The charts in the report for each year of the amended license should add a new line to the chart, so that by the end of the license, many years of bank profile will be shown on the figures.
  • Comment number 1 above should be applied to the draft license article submitted in Section C of FirstLight’s 2015 amendment application.
  • Each year, submit graphs identical to Figures E 1.0-4 through 1.0-24 in the 2014 application, but adding a line or bar showing actual conditions for the most recent reporting year.
  • FirstLight has said it will submit hourly reservoir levels to FERC on a monthly basis as it has done in the past. Rather than submitting a hard-copy table of hourly data, FirstLight should also prepare a monthly graph with some discussion.
  1. Service and Communication

Service of process and all other communications concerning this motion and the above-referenced project should be made to:

Andrea Donlon

Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc.

15 Bank Row

Greenfield MA 01301

 

  1. Conclusion

Though FirstLight may profit immensely from this amendment, CRWC believes that continued operation of Northfield Mountain, and any scenario that involves moving additional water in and out of the Connecticut River, comes at a price for the riverbanks. The license amendment application has presented insufficient data on the winter of 2014-2015 to make a decision on the terms of the amendment. Additionally, because of the potential impact on erosion and the changing electrical market, we conclude that an amendment for the remaining term of the license is not in the public interest.

 

We respectfully request that the Commission provide us party status in this proceeding.

DATED this 29th day of October 2015, on behalf of the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc.

Signed,

 

ANDREW FISK

Andrew Fisk, Executive Director

Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc.

15 Bank Row

Greenfield MA 01301

 

 

ATTACHMENT: Bank profile from TransCanada’s Updated Study Report


CERTIFICATE OF SERVICE

 

I hereby certify that I have this day served the foregoing document, the Motion to Intervene for Project 2485, the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, submitted by CRWC, upon each person designated on the attached service list. Dated this 29th day of October, 2015.

 

Signature:

 

Andrea Donlon

Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc.

15 Bank Row

Greenfield MA 01301

Telephone: (413) 772-2020 x. 205

E-mail: adonlon@ctriver.org

 

 

SERVICE LIST

 

 

FirstLight Hydro Generating Company

John Howard, Director FERC compliance

Northfield Mountain Station

99 Millers Falls Road

Northfield MA 01360

 

Julia S. Wood

Van Ness Feldman, LLP

1050 Thomas Jefferson St., NW

Washington DC 2007

(202) 298-1938

 

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)

John Warner, Ecological Services

N.E. Fish and Wildlife Office

70 Commercial Street, Suite 300

Concord NH 03301-5087

(603) 271-2541

 

Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission

Kenneth Sprankle

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

103 East Plumtree Road

Sunderland MA 01375

(413) 548-9138 x. 121

 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

John C. Sargent

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

New England District

696 Virginia Road

Concord, MA 01742

(978)318-8026-

 

Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection

David Foulis

MA DEP Western Regional Office

436 Dwight Street

Springfield MA 01103

(413) 784-1100

 

Robert Kubit

MA DEP Central Regional Office

627 Main Street

Worcester, MA 01608

(508) 767-2854

 

Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife

Caleb Slater, PhD., Anadromous Fish Coordinator

MA DFW

1 Rabbit Hill Road

Westborough, MA 01581

(508) 389-6331

 

ISO New England Inc.

Peter Brandien, Vice President, System Operations

ISO New England Inc.

One Sullivan Road

Holyoke, MA 01040

(413) 535-4000

[1] Field Geology Services, 2007. Fluvial Geomorphology Study of the Turners Falls Pool on the Connecticut River Between Turners Falls, MA and Vernon, VT. Prepared for Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project by Field Geology Services, Farmington, ME. Dated. November, 2007. Page 40.

[2] The Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage license expires on April 31, 2018, but because the relicensing process is grouped with TransCanada’s upstream facilities, and TransCanada received a one-year extension on their licenses, it is possible/likely that the facility will be allowed to operate on an annual license beyond the 2018 expiration date.

[3] Synapse Energy Economics, Inc., 2013. Forecasting Distributed Generation Resources in New England: Distributed Generation Must Be Properly Accounted for in Regional System Planning. June 7, 2013. Report is online at: http://www.synapse-energy.com/sites/default/files/SynapseReport.2013-06.E4-Group.DG-in-New-England.11-052.pdf

[4] This includes all the sites listed on Table 7-1 of FirstLight’s Initial Study Report for Study 3.1.2 dated September 16, 2014.