December 6, 2021
Shannon Ames, Executive Director
Low Impact Hydro Institute
1167 Massachusetts Avenue
Arlington, MA 02476
Submitted electronically to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Re: Recertification Proposal Comments, Round 2
Dear Ms. Ames,
The Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), is a nonprofit watershed organization that was established in 1952 as the Connecticut River Watershed Council to advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its four-state watershed. CRC has an interest in protecting environmental values that directly and indirectly support the state, regional, and local economies and quality of life of the Connecticut River and its tributaries. In that capacity, we routinely participate in the relicensing of the multiple hydroelectric facilities that exist in the Connecticut River watershed. We also comment on LIHI certifications and re-certifications in our watershed, and we were part of the Ad Hoc group that discussed the changes being contemplated now. We submitted comments in January, 2021 during the first round of proposals on recertification.
When we submitted comments on re-certification in January 2021, we had not yet reviewed LIHI’s “20-Year Review of the Low Impact Hydropower Certification Program” (20-Year Review) published at the end of December 2020. Section 6 of the 20-Year Review involves a comparison of LIHI certified facilities vs. non-LIHI certified facilities, with Figures 22, 23, and 25 looking specifically at those facilities in New England and New York (this region includes CRC’s area of interest). As indicated in the report, there is no noticeable difference between LIHI certified and non-LIHI certified facilities, in terms of numbers of mitigation actions. The report includes many caveats about measuring differences by number of mitigation actions, and CRC agrees that it is difficult, if not impossible, to compare mitigation actions against one another from project to project. However, this seemingly confirms our sense that LIHI certification does not necessarily mean that certified facilities are lower impact than non-certified hydropower facilities. We continue to see facilities that are re-certified against agency and NGO recommendation, even under the new handbook. We also aren’t seeing that LIHI-certified facilities are making extra efforts to lower their impact on rivers.
At the same time, facility owners are benefitting financially from this certification. Section 4.3 of the 20-Year Review points out that, “Likely because of the Massachusetts RPS, Certificate holders in the Northeast stand to earn significant revenue from REC sales, creating a greater focus on revenue derived in part from LIHI Certification, and thus greater expectations for performance that may exceed the LIHI Criteria.” It is true that CRC does have greater expectations for LIHI Certification than non-LIHI certification, especially when there is a financial benefit. CRC’s viewpoint is that hydropower, while carbon-free, is not automatically low impact, but that facility owners can make meaningful steps to configure and operate their facilities in a way that reduces their impact on a river. We continue to look for these meaningful steps when we review certification and re-certification applications.
The question for us is whether or not the current proposal to extend the re-certification time would result in LIHI-certified facilities being able to do more mitigation actions, or more meaningful mitigation actions. We think the answer is no. Mitigation actions usually come about as a result of agency requirements (often during relicensing or the initial exemption) or stakeholder involvement. They typically are not thought of and executed spontaneously by the facility owner (at least we haven’t seen that in the certifications we’ve reviewed). The best way to ensure stakeholder involvement is to create a space in which the stakeholders are aware of and able to review facility performance and provide comments or dialogue. This can be done at minimal cost and effort to the applicant; but then again, one must consider that they are benefitting financially from the LIHI Certification, at least in our watershed.
LIHI Question 1: Does the revised proposal adequately retain the ability for the public to comment on LIHI Certified facilities?
We continue to think that the public or the agencies are not necessarily going to flag issues as a result of annual reviews, and because of that, the mid-term review would rarely be invoked. This reduces public engagement, to once every 10 years instead of every 5 years.
Annual reviews are beneficial as ways to remind the facility owner of their certification and the obligations it holds. This is especially important if there is an ownership change. However, we have seen with re-certification that applicants frequently state that they are in compliance with all requirements, even if they aren’t or if there have been concerns that have come up.
Stage 1 review for re-certification is a limited process and we don’t see why this can’t be retained every 5 years instead of the current proposal.
LIHI Question 3: Would the proposal impact (positively or negatively) your confidence in the LIHI Certification program?
This proposal negatively impacts our confidence in LIHI Re-certification.
LIHI Question 4: Any other comments you feel would be helpful?
All of the clarification edits in blue are helpful additions. We’d recommend adding that the longer recertification length (now 10, proposed to be 15) are for special cases as described in Section 3.1 of the Handbook.
If you adopt your current proposal, we recommend that ownership change automatically trigger a mid-term review if the timing is applicable. We have heard LIHI staff say that ownership change is not necessarily indicative of a change in commitment to the LIHI program, and we acknowledge that. As noted above, there is also the annual review which reminds them of their obligations. But LIHI certification is more about how the facility is operated than the facility’s existence. Therefore, it’s important for the new owners to go through re-certification to best understand that commitment.
In Appendix B, most of the changes are an improvement. We have two minor comments.
- In Table 9, applicants should provide a letter from both the state historic preservation office AND the tribal preservation office. The two cover very separate areas of expertise.
- In Section B.2.8.3, in the third requirement about providing representative photos of recreational facilities and amenities, it should be clarified to say that the photos should be taken within the last 12 months. Thank you for adding this requirement. We also recommend adding a 4th requirement that the applicant include any public website and/or signage informing the public about the project’s recreational amenities.
CRC appreciates the opportunity to provide comments. We can be reached at email@example.com. and 413-325-4426 or firstname.lastname@example.org and 802-258-0413. The main office phone number for CRC is 413-772-2020, and we can be reached there as well.
Andrea F. Donlon Kathy Urffer
River Steward River Steward