Here’s your 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 Flow Test

This spring, the Connecticut River below the Turners Falls Dam, also known as the “bypass channel,” had higher flows than usual. FirstLight conducted another year of studies on spring shad passage as part of their hydroelectric relicensing process. During this time, CRC staff and others took the opportunity to literally test the waters for paddling that stretch of river.

Typical flows in the CT River bypass channel…
…and flows during their fish passage test.
Most of the time, there is not enough water in this stretch to float a boat. Paddlers have to take FirstLight’s shuttle service to portage three miles downstream. We tested a flow of 2,200 cfs (cubic feet / second) at the dam, and that is about the minimum needed to navigate from two access locations downstream of the dam. (Minimum flow during the summer under their current license is only 120 cfs).
CRC is seeking more water in this stretch to improve habitat AND allow for safe and accessible recreation on a beautiful and rarely used stretch of river. We think it’s possible to create a walkable portage around the Turners Falls dam.

FirstLight Shell Companies Approved

On July 1, FERC granted intervenor status to CRC and all other parties on this issue. But then, on July 11, FERC approved the corporate restructuring of FirstLight. Despite concerns of all parties involved in the relicensing, FERC asserted that the restructuring will neither change operations nor impact the environment. Now Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Dam are separate LLCs, owned by several layers of other LLCs, ultimately under the ownership of Public Sector Pension Investment Board of Canada.
As of this writing there are no plans to appeal the decision. But we will be watching this issue closely and ensuring that FirstLight sticks to their promise that this restructuring won’t affect their ability to fund the necessary investments in fish passage and flow requirements that will be required.

Settlement Discussions

Settlement remains stalled. There have been no settlement meetings for more than half a year.

Facilities in VT / NH, Owned by Great River Hydro

Vernon Low Impact Hydro Certification Application

On May 7, Great River Hydro submitted an application to renew its Low Impact Certification for the Vernon Hydroelectric Project. This certification needs to be renewed every five years. CRC and resource agencies submitted comments on this application and again argue that the facility should not be considered low-impact based on a number of issues, most notably that it is still a daily peaking facility. Read CRC’s comments.
The Low Impact Hydro Institute recently updated their standards and CRC hopes this change will enable more comprehensive ecological considerations in how the Vernon plant is run. The Low Impact Hydro Institute may require conditions in order for Vernon to earn the certification.

Instream Flow and American Eel studies

On May 20, Great River Hydro submitted a revised final study report for the Instream Flow Study (Study 9) and a supplemental study report for the American Eel Upstream Passage Assessment (Study 18). CRC and agencies submitted comments on these reports and FERC will issue a determination on these studies by September 17.Read CRC’s comments.
FERC may require additional information or changes. It’s more likely FERC will deem that the studies are complete, meaning the end of the study phase for the relicensing.

Recreation & Final License Applications

FirstLight is expected to file their revised final license application by April 30, 2020, two years after their existing license expired.
Great River Hydro is expected to submit a revised final application after January, 2020.
We anticipate that both companies will submit draft recreation plans as part of their revised license applications. Therefore CRC hascompiled recreation recommendations for all five projects and will be sharing those with both Great River Hydro and FirstLight and submitting them to FERC. The two companies conducted only limited recreational surveys. CRC’s recommendations are based on wide public input INCLUDING data on how much the companies have spent on recreation.
We are also preparing a set of recommendations regarding streambank management.
If you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to contact us.
Great River Hydro facilities:
Kathy Urffer:; 802-258-0413
FirstLight facilities:
Andrea Donlon:; 413-772-2020 x 205