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CRC requests additional information on Turners Falls and Northfield Mtn AFLA

hydropower dam releasing water

January 27, 2021

 

Honorable Kimberly D. Bose Secretary

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

888 First Street, NE

Washington, DC 20426

 

Re: Turners Falls Project No. 1889

Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project No. 2485

 

Objection to Deficient Amended Final License Application and Request for Additional Information

 

Dear Secretary Bose,


The Connecticut River Conservancy (CRC) is a nonprofit citizen group that was established in 1952 as the Connecticut River Watershed Council, Inc. (CRWC) to advocate for the protection, restoration, and sustainable use of the Connecticut River and its four-state watershed. CRWC, now as CRC, has been participating in the relicensing of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Projects since the process began.


CRC has been reviewing the Amended Final License Application (AFLA) for the above-referenced projects submitted to FERC on December 4, 2020. This letter includes our initial identification of deficiencies and requests for additional information based on our review of the AFLA. We note that, because the original Draft License Application dated December 5, 2015 and the Final License Application (FLA) dated April 29, 2016 were completed prior to the relicensing studies being complete, stakeholders have been deprived of the opportunity to comment on a draft set of Protection, Mitigation, and Enhancement measures (PM&Es).  The existence of an AFLA is not contemplated in the Integrated Licensing Process (ILP). The AFLA is deficient and should be rejected.  18 C.F.R. § 5.20.  Additional information should be required. 18 C.F.R. § 5.21 and ILP generally.


The AFLA and the shortcomings leading to and compounded by the AFLA result from First Light’s patently defective Draft License Application submitted in 2015. The continued deficiencies compound and add to previously identified ILP failures that deprive agency and public comment and undermine the ILP. Rather than fine-tuning already-vetted mitigation measures, the vetting of mitigation measures that should have started prior to filing the DLA, may just be starting now.


Our request for additional information follows.

  1. Costs and financing

  2. Clarification needed between costs shown in the Executive Summary Table ES-1 and the Exhibit D Tables 4.5-1 for both projects.

Table ES-1 itemizes FirstLight’s proposed PM&E measures.  This Table ES-1 includes a “total cost” which Footnote 1 defines as energy revenue loss, capital cost, periodic costs, and operation and maintenance costs over a 50-year duration.  Table 4.5-1 in Exhibit D for both the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Projects includes these same PM&E projects, broken down by project.  Table 4.5-1 has separate columns showing the total capital cost over 50 years, the total periodic capital cost over 50 years, the total O&M costs over 50 years and the average annual cost for each of the 50 years, all in 2019 dollars.  CRC requests more information from FirstLight on the differences between these two tables.  It appears that the only difference is the energy revenue loss, but it is unclear what assumptions went into the derivation of the estimates.  For example, Table ES-1 lists a total cost for the improvements to the existing river access location at Poplar Street at $1,573,000.  Table 4.5-1 lists this same facility as costing $286,000 in capital costs and $328,000 in O&M costs over 50 years, for a total of $614,000.  We are seeking an explanation of the basis for the estimate of $959,000 in revenue loss to build and maintain the Poplar Street facility.  Similarly, the installation of the ultrasound array in the Cabot Station tailrace has a $11.62M total cost in ES-1 but a $6M total cost (adding up 3 columns) in Table 4.5-1 in Exhibit D, and CRC is requesting information on the assumptions that account for a $5.6M loss in energy revenue over 50 years in relation to the ultrasound array installation and maintenance.  CRC requests this information for all of the PM&E measures listed in the tables.


18 CFR §5.18(b)5(ii)E states that “If a protection, mitigation, and enhancement measure reduces the amount or value of the project’s developmental resources, the applicant must estimate the reduction.” Does Table ES-1 consider a reduced value of the project, or only reduced energy revenue loss? Have costs to dismantle existing fish passage structures been built into any of the costs presented in the AFLA?


  1. Better understanding of operation and maintenance activities and budget desired

Exhibit D for the Turners Falls Project estimates capital costs of $2M/year, and operation and maintenance costs of $4.3M/year.  Table 4.5-1 of Exhibit D shows the capital costs and the operation and maintenance costs of proposed PM&E measures.  CRC requests that FirstLight break down capital and/or O&M costs from Exhibit D to include large categories of maintenance activities (aside from the PM&E measures), such as the following:  cost of running and maintaining recreation facilities, cost of annual canal drawdown and maintenance, etc.


Exhibit D for the Northfield Mountain Project estimates capital costs of $8.22M/year, and operation and maintenance costs of $24.9M/year (CRC notes that this figure was listed as $11.02M in the 2016 Final License Application).  Table 4.5-1 of Exhibit D shows the capital costs and the operation and maintenance costs of proposed PM&E measures. CRC requests that FirstLight break down capital and/or O&M costs from Exhibit D to include large categories of maintenance activities (aside from the PM&E measures), such as the following:  cost of running and maintaining recreation facilities, project lands maintenance/real estate, power equipment maintenance, etc., and CRC recommends that FirstLight remove the periodic dredging of the upper reservoir intake channel that is shown in Table 4.5-1 and include it as a category under O&M because it is not a PM&E measure.  CRC is curious how the O&M budget is more than doubling since the FLA was filed in 2016 because there are two notable things being proposed to be eliminated, as follows:


  • Section 3.3.1.4.1 of Exhibit E on page E-74 of the AFLA states that FirstLight is not proposing any PM&Es related to erosion. Under their current license, FirstLight has been expending O&M money on riverbank restoration projects.  FirstLight should explain what their budget has been under the existing license, and how that money will be spent under the new license.

  • FirstLight, on page E-532, states that it is discontinuing the rental of cross-country ski equipment in part because of “high overhead costs.” It is not clear what those costs are, and if money may be shifted to some other recreation activity or if FirstLight is lowering their overall budget for recreational offerings.

CRC requests information from FirstLight on maintenance dredging of Barton Cove to maintain navigation and reservoir storage for Northfield Mountain.  During the scoping phase of the relicensing, the siltation of Barton Cove was identified as an issue currently affecting navigation to various boat access locations within the Cove.  Although Section 3.3.1.2 of the AFLA on page E-72 mentions that cross-sections in Barton Cove showed net deposition, there is no assessment of net volume accumulation of sediment in Barton Cove, or in areas of Barton Cove.  CRC requests information from FirstLight as to the expected rate of siltation and at what point it may impact (or has impacted) the storage capacity of Northfield Mountain’s lower reservoir or the operation of Turners Falls dam and gatehouse, and at what point they anticipate needing to dredge Barton Cove over the next 50 years to either maintain navigation or for operational reasons.


  1. Additional revenues for the Project should be estimated

Annual revenues from recreational facility programs (rentals, tickets, etc.), nonproject use of project land including the solar energy facility and re-imbursement by private uses of camps and private clubs should be included in Exhibit D, just as expenses not specifically tied to energy generation, such as taxes, were included.  After all, these revenues occur because of the project’s existence and operation.


  1. Operational changes to Great River Hydro’s facilities upstream should now be modeled

In the AFLA submitted by Great River Hydro on December 7, 2020, they propose to operate the Wilder, Bellows Falls, and Vernon Projects “fundamentally different” than current operation.  In FirstLight’s AFLA in Section 3.3.2.1.1.1, FirstLight requests certain information about Great River Hydro’s operations.  CRC requests that FirstLight provide commentary and/or model runs on how Great River Hydro’s proposed operation, if implemented, would impact the operation of the Turners Falls Project, and possibly Northfield Mountain.  As part of this request, CRC specifically requests how flows below the Turners Falls Dam and Cabot Station may or may not change from current/proposed operations, given the proposed Great River Hydro operations.


  1. Explanation of PM&E measures not adopted is deficient

The ILP regulations at 18 CFR §5.18(b)5(ii)C require that if an applicant does not adopt a preliminary environmental measure proposed by a resource agency, Indian tribe, or member of the public, it must include its reasons, based on project-specific information. CRC notes again that normally this would take place in a FLA after stakeholders have proposed preliminary measures in comments on a DLA. FirstLight was required to submit their DLA and FLA before the relicensing studies were complete, and now FERC has required an Amended Final License Application with no comment period, further denying the public the opportunity to comment on still deficient PM&E measures and plans. FirstLight’s AFLA has only a list of commenters on their DLA, but no part of Exhibit E reflects stakeholder input, either through comments on the DLA or otherwise. Though FirstLight conducted settlement negotiations with stakeholders, including CRC, for two years, those discussions focused only on flows and fish passage before they ended.


More information is needed on why the following measures were not adopted:


  • FirstLight in Exhibit C on page C-3 for the Turners Falls Project says that it considered but eliminated installing a minimum flow turbine. What assumptions were made as to size and amount of water and costs of installing?

  • On June 8, 2018, CRC filed with FERC a request for a full alternatives analysis to mitigate the environmental effects of Northfield Mountain. CRC suggested an analysis of full or partial closed loop, a retrofit to adjustable speed units, widening the tailrace, and a request for thinking of other alternatives not contemplated by CRC. FirstLight has only described building a lower reservoir for Northfield Mountain as an alternative identified but not adopted in Section 2.3 in Exhibit E. This is insufficient.

  • CRC’s comments on FirstLight’s DLA dated March 1, 2016 contained a series of recreation recommendations. FirstLight’s FLA included a Draft Recreation Management Plan with no response to specific comments on the DLA.  On July 30, 2019, CRC filed with FERC a detailed set of additional recreation recommendations put together by CRC and the Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC).  The AFLA does not contain a reason for not adopting many of these proposed PM&E’s.  Somehow, FirstLight has gone from a deficient Draft Recreation Management Plan in 2016 to a Final Plan in 2020, with no consideration or response to comments received.

  1. Information lacking on flows and river levels needed for paddling and boat navigation

Section 3.3.6.2 in Exhibit E lacks an analysis of navigability in and out of all current and proposed river access locations based on the proposed flows and operations, both in the Turners Falls impoundment and below the Turners Falls Dam (especially under the proposed minimum flows at the new put-in below the dam, 650 and 500 cfs, for August and September 1 to November 30, respectfully).  And, if average river elevations in the Turners Falls Impoundment (TFI) will be changed under proposed increase upper reservoir capacity as it has under temporary amendment conditions in the past, that information needs to be highlighted in the AFLA and included in this requested analysis.

 

  1. Having no comment period on a true draft license application undermines the ILP

 

FirstLight’s continuing failures compound the issues identified in CRC’s March 1, 2016 comments and further undermine the ILP.  A critical part of the ILP was to better allow for public input and response, and to front-load this input.  Now that the studies are in, and FirstLight has proposed PM&E’s that the public can react to, these are being offered as “final” elements of their application. This wholly circumvents the required public input and undermines the ILP. Indeed, FirstLight has made no attempt to respond to some of the recommendations that have been submitted since the DLA and the present.  FERC staff have said that there are plenty of opportunities for public comment later in the process, but that has yet to happen and does not excuse clear ILP violations. CRC requests FERC to require significant additional information and clarification of the details and a formal public comment period before it deems the application complete. FERC must do so without additional delays to this long-delayed relicensing process.

 

I can be reached at adonlon@ctriver.org or (413) 772-2020 x.205.

 

Sincerely,

Andrea F. Donlon

River Steward

 

ATTACHMENT: CRWC’s 2016 comments on the Draft License Application


See CRC’s Comments on First Light’s DLA (Mar. 1, 2016).  CRC reasserts those comments and incorporates them as part of these comments.

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