Here is our latest update on the hydropower relicensing process for the five facilities in MA, NH and VT along the Connecticut River: the Wilder, Bellows Falls, Vernon, and Turners Falls Dams and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station.
Facilities in MA, Owned by FirstLight
FirstLight attempted runaround with FERC
In February of 2018, we were surprised to read in the news that FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee and former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt took a tour of the Turners Falls Dam and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage. This raised red flags for us because FERC has rules restricting staff and commissioners from having private meetings with licensees once a license application has been submitted (known as ex-parte communications).
CRC submitted a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to FERC asking for more information on this meeting. Eventually, after suing FERC for not responding to our request, we started getting documents in late 2018. We learned that FERC staff correctly said Chatterjee could not participate in a meeting to discuss any of FirstLight’s desired topics, but would be happy to go on a tour. FirstLight surely was aware of ex-parte rules. We also learned that one of the people who was listed as attending on FirstLight’s side was lobbyist Mike McKenna of MWR Strategies. McKenna is well known in energy circles and was briefly Trump’s energy transition team leader in 2016.
Given the Trump administration’s track record on overturning decisions made by career staff, CRC sees Mike McKenna’s involvement as a sign that FirstLight may be planning to game the system. And, it calls into question FirstLight’s “in good faith” participation in settlement negotiations, something all settlement parties agreed to at the beginning of the settlement process.
Settlement meetings have stalled as FirstLight refuses to negotiate over a particular issue that stakeholders identified from the beginning as being critical.
Proposed FirstLight corporate restructuring
As of this writing, FERC has not issued a determination on FirstLight’s proposal to split up their facilities into separate companies.
Most, if not all, of the stakeholders involved in relicensing expressed serious concern about the restructuring we described in the last update to create LLCs (with several corporate shell layers) for Turners Falls Dam and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage.
FirstLight meeting on studies and issues
On March 15, FirstLight filed Revised Study Reports for the archaeology study, a report for the 2018 ultrasound array study at Turners Falls, and a shad telemetry study plan for 2019. A study report meeting was held on Friday, March 29, 2019. FirstLight filed notes from that meeting with FERC on April 15.
During the afternoon of March 29, FirstLight also held a public meeting to solicit feedback on recreation and erosion issues. CRC and multiple stakeholders were prepared for this moment, and unveiled a coordinated recreational package that incorporated ideas from our additional research and surveys. CRC was able to calculate the amount of revenues FirstLight spent on recreation (0.8%) and we advocated for a stronger investment in the new license. (FERC has recently eliminated the requirement that hydro companies report recreational expenditures, which is very unfortunate.)
We have compiled recreation recommendations for all five projects and will be sharing those with both Great River Hydro and FirstLight and submitting them to FERC in anticipation that both companies will submit draft recreation plans as part of their amended final license application.
We are also preparing a set of recommendations regarding streambank management.
Facilities in VT / NH, Owned by Great River Hydro
Review Continues on Instream Flow Study
On February 19, FERC issued a revised process plan to address the two uncompleted studies: the Instream Flow Study and the Dwarf Wedgemussel & Co-Occurring Mussel Study. Great River Hydro is required to file the study report addenda for these two studies by May 20, 2019 and they will hold a public meeting to go over these reports on June 4, 2019 – mark your calendars!
All stakeholders can file disagreements or requests to amend the study plans by July 19, 2019 and FERC will issue a determination on these two remaining studies by September 17, 2019. Once these studies are deemed complete, FERC will likely issue an updated process plan with deadlines for filing the amended license application in early 2020.
FirstLight submitted a letter to FERC last week proposing to file their amended final license application by April 30, 2020, two years after their existing license expired.
When both companies file an amended final license application, FERC will undertake an Environmental Impact Report. Then they will finalize the terms of a new license, a process that takes approximately two years.
If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Great River Hydro facilities: CRC River Steward, Kathy Urffer (firstname.lastname@example.org; 802-258-0413)
FirstLight facilities: CRC River Steward, Andrea Donlon (email@example.com; 413-772-2020 x 205)
Header Image: Turners Falls dam & fishway