May 14, 2014

Ms. Anne Margolis
Renewable Energy Development Manager
Vermont Department of Public Service
112 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05620-2601

Re: Connecticut River Watershed Council comments on “VT Low Impact Hydropower Screening” draft criteria – received 4/2/14

Dear Ms. Margolis:

The Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRC) is a not for profit membership public interest organization founded in 1952 that has an interest in protecting environmental values that directly and indirectly support the State, regional, and local economies and the quality of life offered by the Connecticut River and its tributaries.CRC members have an interest in all hydro facilities on the Connecticut River and its tributaries.

The interests represented by CRC are: improving water quality; enhancing habitat for fish and other aquatic biota; safeguarding and improving wildlife habitat; protecting threatened and endangered species; protecting wetlands; preserving undeveloped shore lands; enhancing public recreation and promoting recreational safety; and maintaining any energy benefits that may exist at hydroelectric projects in the Connecticut River watershed.

General Comments:

CRC is somewhat skeptical of the offer by the Public Service Department (PSD) to expedite the development of small and micro hydro projects. The impetuous for developing these sites hinges on the questionable premise that small hydro facilities cause little or no environmental harm. Further, in our experience with the development of small hydro facilities the reality is that such projects are not economically viable without significant state and/or federal subsidies. Having questionable projects littering our waterways that cannot support themselves without subsidy presages that there will be deadbeat dams harming the aquatic habitat for decades to come because someone suffered delusions of “hydropoliana” fueled by having someone else paying the bills.

CRC calls on PSD to enforce the Vermont Water Quality Standards (WQS) in all applications regardless of their meeting the draft criteria. Even in those miniscule number of instances where small hydro might be feasible and where it has limited environmental impact the DPS should review all applications not only for compliance with the WQS but with an eye to determine if a project meets the test of having a value to society greater than the harm it imparts to a river.

Our specific comments to the proposed criteria follow.

1. Will qualify for a FERC 10 Mw exemption

No hydro project that hooks into the power grid is exempt of federal environmental impact review under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). “Exempt” in FERC speak just means one review and done for the life of the project. Applicants should not be allowed any compromises in meeting the VT WQS or federal EIS standards required under NEPA if for no other reason than the project would never be reviewed for environmental impacts again.

2. Located at an existing dam or project will not require a dam or other impoundment

This seems a minimal requirement but there should be close attention paid to the retrofitting of any facility in terms of the impact any necessary work has on the river, the shoreland and river aesthetics. In either dam redevelopment or a run of river development there should be a rigorous evaluation of any bypass reach including its length, the habitat that will be dewatered, its cumulative impact when considered along with other such intrusions on the river and the aesthetics of drying up of a reach of river.

3. Will not change the impoundment elevation

If this is to be true then flow limitations at the powerhouse must meet a true run of river standard on an instantaneous basis, water in is equal to water out at all times of year and at all flows.

4. Will be operated as true run of river

If this is to be true then flow limitations at the powerhouse must meet a true run of river standard on an instantaneous basis, water in is equal to water out at all times of year and at all flows.

5. Proposed bypass flows will meet hydrologic standards as defined by the ANR Flow Procedure

ANR should only accept the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recommended minimum flows of 0.5 csm (cubic feet per second per square mile) (summer), 1.0 csm (fall and winter), and 4.0 csm (spring) to insure that all designated uses in a bypass reach of river are protected under the VT WQS. If the applicant wants to pursue other approaches to insure compliance with the WQS, then the widest possible number of interested stakeholders should be invited to review and comment on any such proposed study plans.

6. When the Agency of Natural Resources determines, based on a site-specific determination, that

a. Fish passage facilities not needed

b. Project will not affect threatened or endangered species

c. Project does not significantly alter site aesthetics and

d. Project is not located where there is a bypass of high habitat value

The widest possible number of interested stakeholders should review and comment on any such proposed determinations before they are issued by ANR.

7. Will comply with ANR Stream Alteration Standards

This is a minimum requirement for all construction. CRC feels it is important that contractors doing the work on site and especially in river be certified as having completed the Standard River Practices Training for Contractors provided by VTRANS and ANR.

8. Where there are direct or indirect impacts to historic and archaeological resources, projects are reviewed on a case-by-case basis by the State Historic Preservation Office, and adhere to recommendations made by that office

A minimum requirement since compliance with Section 106 is mandatory under FERC license rules. A FERC license is a federal action and consequently triggers Historic Preservation Section 106 review of the project. The question becomes which federal agency will be the lead agency under Section 106 under the PSD small and micro hydro scheme?

CRC thanks the Public Service Department for the opportunity to comment on the draft criteria for small and micro hydro assistance. CRC knows that the development of these criteria is an exercise that the legislature required of the Department so we are glad that it has chosen to involve a broad sweep of interested stakeholders when meeting that requirement.


David Deen, River Steward