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CRC comments on the Taftsville (P-2490) PAD and Study Plan Requests

Taftsville Dam during winter with ice and snow

John Greenan, P.E.

Green Mountain Power Corporation

2152 Post Road

Rutland, VT  05701


Re: CRC comments on the Taftsville (P-2490) Preliminary Application Document and Study Plan Requests


Dear Mr. Greenan,


The Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (CRWC), now doing business as the Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC), is a nonprofit citizen group established in 1952 to advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its four-state watershed.  The interests and goals represented by CRC include, but are not limited to, 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; protecting aesthetic values; protecting archeological, cultural, and historical resources; fostering sustainable economic development; and maintaining the potential energy benefits of hydroelectric projects in the Connecticut River watershed.


CRC attended the Joint Agency and Public meeting on December 10, 2019 and has reviewed the Taftsville hydro-electric facility Pre-Application Document August 28, 2019.


Please consider our comments on the PAD and requested studies below.


4.4 Current and Proposed Project Operations


CRC understands that the change to run of river and a minimum flow of 15 cfs had been established voluntarily by the previous owner before the last relicensing. It is unclear if this is based on any scientific analysis of appropriate flows for the river. CRC supports any additional analysis to establish an appropriate minimum flow that would support riverine habitat downstream of the project. 


Additionally, the PAD states that the “18 inch flashboards are removed prior to winter and reinstalled in late spring.”[1]


During the site meeting Green Mountain Power (GMP) staff indicated that the flashboard are allowed to break over the winter, generally in February and then are repaired in the spring. CRC notes this in case there are impoundment surface water elevation considerations that may be affected by this course of action.


4.5.3 Average Annual Energy and Dependable Capacity


Table 2 from the PAD providing net generation by month[2] may be incorrect. The Total column is actually the average over the 12 months of each year, not the total generation for that year. If one takes an average of the total generation over the four years presented, the average annual generation is actually 1.0252.


CRC is curious about the return on investment and limited electricity generated by this facility and whether the cost to the ecosystem is justified by this limited generation. The PAD states that, “there are no dams upstream of the Taftsville Project”[3] and that the “Lower Ottaquechee River (Kedron Brook to confluence) is listed as a priority water for remediation and enhancement projects.” [4] 


Based on this, ecosystem restoration in this stretch of the river seems to be a high priority.


Given the Given Green Mountain Power’s role as the only utility in the nation to be designation a Certified B-Corp, the standards and expectations of that certification compel the company, “That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered, and that, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.”[5] Additionally, New England in general is trending toward declining electricity demand.  According to GMP’s 2018 Integrated Resource Plan, “Sales of baseload energy in Vermont have declined to levels last seen fifteen years ago.”[6] As the holder of multiple hydro assets, GMP is in the unique position to consider balancing the costs and benefits of its facilities across its assets in order to make choices to prioritize the most effective and efficient facilities while allowing possible decommissioning of some facilities to protect or enhance our resources.


To that end, CRC requests that an ecosystem cost/generation benefit study to ascertain if the electric generation provided by the Taftsville Hydro-power facility is justified when balanced against habitat, recreational and municipal costs.  This may be combined with a decommissioning study to identify the cost of decommissioning the project in anticipation of revenue changes. See requested Study 1 in Attachment A.


6.3.2 Aquatic Habitat


The PAD states that, “During July, August and September, river flow is usually less than the minimum capacity of the turbine unit (110 cfs); consequently, during these months the Licensee does not usually operate the Taftsville project.”[7]  Yet, Table 4-2 Taftsville Net Generation by Month[8] shows generation amounts for June, July, August and September in every year between 2014 and 2018 except for August of 2016. Additionally, this statement indicates that the minimum capacity of the turbine unit is 110 cfs, but during the site meeting it was suggested the minimum capacity was 95 cfs. Can this be clarified?


6.8.1 Existing Recreation Opportunities and Use at the Project


While we understand that there may be some recreational opportunity at the facility itself, the presence of the dam nevertheless impedes access by anglers, boaters and other recreation users to freely access or paddle through on the river. The FERC guidance for recreation at hydropower projects states, “Licensees must also keep in mind that the demand for recreation is not static; it is an evolving process. Periodic review of a project’s consistency with recreation demands is required to ensure that the public need for recreational opportunity is being met by existing and proposed facilities.”[9]  The PAD indicates that “GMP reported estimated recreation use… in the 2003, 2009, and 2015 FERC Form 80 Licensed Hydropower Development Recreation Reports.”[10] All hydropower facilities have been required to file a “Form 80” with FERC every 6 years, and all were on the same filing schedule (recent filings are from 2015, 2009, and 2003). In 2019, this requirement was eliminated as a result of a recent rule change by the FERC. Therefore, there will not be any future Form 80 filings. Given that the timing of this relicensing falls in line with what would have been a normal Form 80 reporting period, and this now will be the only opportunity to consider recreational use over the course of the coming license period, CRC supports a recreation study.  Additionally, CRC encourages GMP to make a commitment to develop a Recreation Plan with a commitment to update this every 10 years over the course of the coming license in case additional opportunities for recreational improvements arise.  See Requested Study 2 in Attachment A.


6.8.5 National Rivers Inventory and National Wild and Scenic River System


The PAD states that the section of the “Ottaquechee from the headwaters to Woodstock is listed on the NRI…”[11]  What it doesn’t state is that the uppermost point of this is only approximately 12,000 feet upstream from the Taftsville impoundment.  One might argue that the reach of river containing the Taftsville dam is not on the NRI because of the presence of the dam itself.  The fact that this project is essentially adjacent to an NRI segment advances the argument that GMP should study the cost benefits of generation at this facility.


6.9.2 Land Use and Management within the Project Vicinity


In Figure 4-1, The Project Location Map[12] one notices that Old River Road to the north and east, and Woodstock Road, or VT Rte 4 to the south and west are adjacent to the project boundary on both sides of the impoundment. It is CRC’s understanding from personal communication that there are ongoing issues with ice coming up onto those roads from the impoundment.  This is a yearly expense that the adjacent towns of Woodstock, Pomfret, and Hartford have to bear possibly due to sediment levels in the impoundment.  Town residents have reported that they feel that the dam is influencing that stretch of river with sediment backup and ice jams.[13]


6.11.4 History of the Project


The PAD indicates that the facility, “suffered serious damage due to flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene.  The river overflowed the west bank upstream from the dam and descended past the landward side of the headworks and connecting floodwall to enter the powerhouse.” [14] 


We understand from the site visit that as a result of this GMP has reconstructed the power house to protect it in future floods, but given the shallowness of the impoundment, and increased flooding due to climate change, we can expect this to reoccur.  The study request for cost/ benefit analysis should include some consideration of future flooding on the towns.


7.2.6.2 Proposed Studies


CRC supports the proposal by GMP to conduct a freshwater mussel survey.[15]  CRC defers to the expertise of the United States Fish and Wildlife Service as to the design and oversight of this study.


In addition to the comments provided above, please note that CRC supports comments submitted by the natural resource agencies, including but not limited to the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department (VT F&W), VT Department of Environmental Conservation (VT DEC), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).


We are very grateful for Green Mountain Power’s sustainable leadership and encourage them to use this opportunity to increase their commitment to the environment. We appreciate the opportunity to provide comments. I can be reached at kurffer@ctriver.org or (802) 258-0413.


Sincerely,


Kathy Urffer

River Steward


Encl: Attachment A: Study Requests


CC:


FERC, e-file

Jason Lisai, GMP

John Tedesco, GMP

Katie Sellers, Kleinschmidt Associates

Jeff Crocker, VT DEC

Eric Davis, VT DEC

Betsy Simard, VT DEC

Lael Will, VT F&W


Melissa Grader, US FWS

 

 

ATTACHMENT A: STUDY REQUESTS


Requested Study 1:  Cost Benefit Analysis of Continued Generation in Relation to Ecosystem and Municipal Costs


Conduct a study of the economic analysis of the return on investment and limited electricity generated by this facility and whether the costs to the ecosystem and adjacent municipalities are justified by this limited generation.  Methodology could include analyzing costs to neighboring towns of flooding and ice impacts on Old River Road and Rte 4; analyzing potential increases to recreational economy of adjacent towns with an un-obstructed river; develop a cost estimate for decommissioning; as well as other economic considerations.


Goals and Objectives


  • To determine if project generation is justified in relation to the impact to the river and financial cost to neighboring municipalities;

  • To determine economic impact of this facility as obstacle to recreation;

  • To determine economic impact of habitat loss and sedimentation behind the dam;

  • Develop a cost estimate of decommissioning to consider this as an alternative to relicensing.

Resource Management Goals


Cost/benefit analysis of impacts to river and whether local and natural resource impacts are justified by limited generation. Noted that requester is not an agency or Indian tribe.


Public Interest 


Sections 4(e) and 10(a) of the Federal Power Act require the Commission to give equal consideration to all uses of the waterway on which a project is located, and what conditions should be placed on any license that may be issued.  As indicated in the FERC Policy Statement on Project Decommissioning at Relicensing, “The more likely scenario is one in which the Commission is required to condition a new power license with environmental mitigation measures, and the licensee is unwilling to accept the license tendered. The licensee may prefer to take the project out of business, because the costs of doing business have become too high. There is no merit to the suggestion by some industry commenters that a condition in a power license is per se unreasonable if, as a result of imposing the condition, the project is no longer economically viable. The statute calls for a balancing of various development and nondevelopment interests, and those commenters’ position would elevate power and other development interests far above the environmental concerns. It would mean that severe environmental damage would have to be accepted in order to protect even a very marginal hydropower project. The Commission does not read the Federal Power Act to compel such a result.”[16]


Existing Information


Existing cost of road infrastructure issues should be accessible by contacting adjacent towns.  Similar sized dams have been removed in Vermont in recent years and those costs are accessible through the VT DEC and NGOs.


Nexus to Project Operations and Effects


The Federal Power Act requires the Commission to give equal consideration to all uses of the waterway on which a project is located, and what conditions should be placed on any license that may be issued. Given the marginal generation at this facility, it is in the best interest of the public to have a clear economic analysis of project impacts in order to weigh the benefits of this limited generation against impacts to the waterway and surrounding communities.


Methodology Consistent with Accepted Practice


The proposed study would be conducted by developing an environmental cost benefit analysis to consider habitat and societal costs and compare these costs and impacts to the benefit of electricity generation. This is an accepted methodology for this type of study.


Level of Effort/Cost, and Why Alternative Studies will not suffice


Cost for this study is estimated to be low.  Conducting this study at the outset of relicensing will help GMP to clarify whether continued investment in this facility are warranted.

 

~~~~~~~~


Requested Study 2:  Recreation Survey


Conduct a study of the recreational boating, fishing, and birding opportunities at the dam, as well as upstream and downstream of the dam to determine if changes or improvements can be made to enhance recreational opportunities.  Methodology should include using on-site visitor questionnaires and a mailed and/ or emailed questionnaire to residents of the neighboring towns to assess recreation use and needs at the project.  The study should also include an assessment of use of ADA compliant fishing access from the parking lot and walking paths available in the project area.


Goals and Objectives


  • To determine if project operations impact recreational opportunities;

  • To determine current use of project area for recreation;

  • Assess if there are operational, structural or other modifications to the project which could improve fishing, birding, or other recreational opportunities.

Resource Management Goals


Enhancement of recreational opportunities associated with the presence and operation of the project, including the dam, reservoir and tailwater areas. Noted that requester is not an agency or Indian tribe.


Public Interest 


Sections 4(e) and 10(a) of the Federal Power Act require the Commission to give equal consideration to all uses of the waterway on which a project is located, and what conditions should be placed on any license that may be issued.  As indicated in the FERC guidance for Recreation Development at Licensed Hydropower Projects,

“On December 27, 1965, FERC issued Order No. 313, which amended the General Policy and Interpretations section of the Commission’s regulations (18 CFR Part 2) to ensure that the ultimate development of recreation resources at all projects is consistent with area recreational needs.  Specifically, 18 CFR Part 2 was amended to include § 2.7, which requires licensees to: (1) acquire lands to assure optimum development of the recreational resources afforded by the project; (2) develop suitable public recreational facilities with adequate public access, considering the needs of physically handicapped persons in the design of facilities and access; (3) coordinate efforts with other agencies in the development of recreation areas and facilities; (4) provide for planning, operation, and maintenance of these facilities; and (5) inform the public of opportunities for recreation at licensed projects.”[17]


Existing Information


GMP provided filing of Form 80 reports in 2003, 2009, and 2015. All hydropower facilities have been required to file a “Form 80” with FERC every 6 years, and all were on the same filing schedule. In 2019, this requirement was eliminated as a result of a rule change by the FERC. Therefore, there will not be any future Form 80 filings. The timing of this relicensing falls in line with what would have been a normal Form 80 reporting period, and this will be the only opportunity to consider recreational use over the course of the coming license period.


Nexus to Project Operations and Effects


Boaters, anglers, and other recreational users are impeded from access to their public trust waters by hydro-electric dams.  Changes in hydraulic conditions and habitat in the river impacts their ability to use the resources, affects catch rates and species for fish, and creates safety concerns.


Methodology Consistent with Accepted Practice


The proposed study would be conducted by using on-site visitor questionnaires and a mailed and/ or emailed questionnaire to residents of neighboring towns to collect feedback on perceptions of access to the area, use patterns and local needs.  This is an accepted methodology for this type of study.


Level of Effort/Cost, and Why Alternative Studies will not suffice


Cost for this study is estimated to be low.  This study would provide the current baseline regarding recreational use and would provide insight into the need for and type of potential enhancements.


[1] Pre-Application Document. Taftsville Hydroelectric Project. (FERC No. 2490). Prepared for Green Mountain Power Corporation. Prepared by Kleinschmidt, Pittsfield, ME. August 2019. Page 4-11.

[2] Ibid. Page 4-15.

[3] Ibid. Page 5-3.

[4] Ibid. Page 6-9

[5] The B-Corp Declaration of Interdependence. Accessed online at: https://bcorporation.net/about-b-corps

[6] Green Mountain Power. 2018 Integrated Resource Plan. Accessed online at: https://greenmountainpower.com/regulatory/2018-integrated-resource-plan/. Feb. 6, 2020. Page 4-1.

[7] Pre-Application Document. Taftsville Hydroelectric Project. (FERC No. 2490). Prepared for Green Mountain Power Corporation. Prepared by Kleinschmidt, Pittsfield, ME. August 2019. Page 6-21.

[8] Ibid. Page 4-15.

[9] Recreation Development at Licensed Hydropower Projects: Division of Project Compliance and Administration, Office of Hydropower Licensing, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Washington DC. March 1996. Page 14.

[10] Pre-Application Document. Taftsville Hydroelectric Project. (FERC No. 2490). Prepared for Green Mountain Power Corporation. Prepared by Kleinschmidt, Pittsfield, ME. August 2019. Page 6-49.

[11] Ibid. Page 6-57.

[12] Ibid. Page 4-2.

[13] Personal communication by Kathy Urffer with local residents.  Sept. 4, 2019.

[14] Pre-Application Document. Taftsville Hydroelectric Project. (FERC No. 2490). Prepared for Green Mountain Power Corporation. Prepared by Kleinschmidt, Pittsfield, ME. August 2019. Page 6-72.

[15] Pre-Application Document. Taftsville Hydroelectric Project. (FERC No. 2490). Prepared for Green Mountain Power Corporation. Prepared by Kleinschmidt, Pittsfield, ME. August 2019. Page 7-7.

[16] Project Decommissioning at Relicensing; Policy Statement (December 14, 1994), 18 C.F.R. § 2.24, 60 Fed. Reg. 339 (January 4, 1995), FERC Stats. & Regs. Preambles 1991-1996 ¶ 31,011.

[17] Recreation Development at Licensed Hydropower Projects: Division of Project Compliance and Administration, Office of Hydropower Licensing, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, Washington DC. March 1996. Page 1.

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