SAXTONS RIVER -- TransCanada will be required over the next two years to conduct 33 studies examining the effects its three hydropower facilities has on the Connecticut River before they can be relicensed.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) recently released its list of required studies to be performed by TransCanada -- the owner of facilities in Bellows Falls, Vernon and Wilder -- to develop a record for decision-makers and the public to use in creating new operating licenses. FirstLight Power, a subsidiary of GDF Suez, owns the Turners Falls Dam and the Northfield Mountain Pump Storage Project in Massachusetts and will have to undertake 38 studies of its own.
According to a statement from the Connecticut River Watershed Council (CRWC), the five hydrofacilities account for more than 30 percent of hydropower generation in New England. The current licenses for these facilities were last issued between the late 1960s and the 1980s and all expire in 2018. FERC, the federal agency overseeing the relicensing process, issued its initial ruling on the proposed study plans in September.
CRWC river stewards attended dozens of meetings and submitted more than 300 pages of detailed comment letters and study requests to FERC, identifying environmental issues and recommending studies that could help all stakeholders better understand the facilities' effects on the river.
CRWC Upper Valley River Steward David Deen did not return a phone call seeking comment by presstime Thursday but said in the statement that CRWC is happy FERC "made a number of important changes based on our input."
Entergy's announcement over the summer to decommission the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant, which it owns, at the end of 2014 will affect the content of many of the studies and may affect the overall licensing schedule. FERC, according to CRWC's statement, will hold two added technical meetings for the power companies and stakeholders to discuss adjustment of proposed studies and/or schedules. CRWC staff will attend the meetings, which are scheduled for 9 a.m. on Monday, Nov. 25, at the Northfield Mountain Visitor Center and at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 26, in the Glass Room at Marlboro College Graduate School.
CRWC Massachusetts River Steward Andrea Donlon told the Reformer the studies will look at "everything that is still unknown" about what the facilities do to the river. In regards to the FERC's final ruling, she said, "we are pleased about some things and displeased about others."
She said CRWC earned a victory by GDF Suez being required to install additional water level monitors, with an expanded time period for logging data, in the Turners Falls Power Pool. Donion also said the pump facility causes the water levels to fluctuate.
But CRWC is disappointed FERC would not require FirstLight (GDF Suez) to evaluate the costs and feasibility of making Northfield Mountain pumped storage facility into a closed-loop system, fully or partially eliminating daily withdrawals and discharges into the Connecticut River.
"Why shouldn't we at least study making Northfield Mountain a closed-loop system?" she inquires in the statement. "We already know there are real impacts to the river from this facility. They can afford to make this facility state-of-the-art since it plays an important role in our energy sector, acting like a storage battery for peak energy periods. After all, this is a tremendously profitable facility run by one of the largest energy companies in the world."
Domenic Poli can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.