FirstLight Power has submitted its combined Amended Final License Application (AFLA) to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in the US to extend the operating licenses for 50 years for its Cabot and Turners Falls hydroelectric generating stations on the Connecticut River and its Northfield Mountain pumped storage facility in Massachusetts.
As part of the license application, FirstLight is committing to $130 million worth of new investments in protection, mitigation and enhancement (PM&E) measures and foregoing approximately $100 million in energy revenue over the next 50 years by restricting hours of hydropower generation to protect wildlife and habitat and upgrade recreational facilities in the region.
These measures include: $5.6 million in investments to improve recreational facilities on the Connecticut River, including four new access points and boat launches in Montague and Northfield; new upstream and downstream fish passage facilities and protective netting at the Northfield Mountain water intake to minimize impacts on fish and marine life from operations; changes in hydropower operations protocols to improve fish migration and spawning and to improve general aquatic habitat for a multitude of plant and animal species; and ongoing management plans for protecting bald eagles, long-eared bats and short nose sturgeon, maintaining historical properties, and mitigating the spread of invasive species.
“Northfield Mountain and our Cabot and Turners Falls facilities are delivering a significant portion of the zero-emissions clean power available to New England’s electric grid today, and they are poised to play an even more important role in the decades ahead as Massachusetts scales up renewable energy to achieve its ambitious goal of net-zero emissions by 2050,” commented FirstLight CEO Alicia Barton. “We are proud to be able to strengthen FirstLight’s longstanding environmental stewardship in the region and support environmental and species protection, preservation of clean energy jobs, and investment in the local economy, all while combating the existential threat of climate change.’’
FirstLight also acknowledged the contributions of the many stakeholders who provided valuable input into the process of developing the AFLA, including environmental and recreation organizations, tribal representatives, historical and cultural officials, and local, state, and federal agencies. “The engagement of these stakeholders has been an important part of the development of this application, and we look forward to continuing to work with them as the process advances,” said Barton.
The 1168MW Northfield Mountain pumped-storage facility, known as “New England’s biggest and greenest battery,” was originally completed in 1972 and can store enough power to serve 1 million homes for more than seven hours every day. To bolster its value to the reliability of the New England electric grid and to the region’s carbon reduction goals, FirstLight is asking FERC to make permanent the allowed use of existing storage capability that FERC has granted during seasonal peak times in the past.
Cabot-Turners Falls is Massachusetts’ largest conventional hydropower facility and consists of the 62MW Cabot Station, first put into service in 1916, and 6MW Turners Falls station just upstream, commissioned in 1905.
As part of its stewardship of the local environment and approximately 4,000 acres of land in Western Massachusetts associated with the facilities, FirstLight already provides access to some of the area’s marquee outdoor recreation sites including the Northfield Mountain Recreation and Environmental Center, the Turners Falls Fishway, Riverview Park, and the Barton Cove and Munn’s Ferry campgrounds. The new river access points will provide kayakers, canoers, hikers, and other visitors with even more options to enjoy the river and its wildlife.
Extensive research for the 700-page AFLA, including analysis by the nation’s leading riverbank-erosion scientist, confirmed that FirstLight’s operations affect riverbanks in only two locations, one of which has already been remediated. In the second, research showed, naturally high river flows and boat wakes account for the vast majority of riverbank impacts, with only 8 percent of impact attributable to hydroelectric operations by FirstLight. The study confirmed that the steps FirstLight has completed to date to mitigate shoreline erosion issues have satisfactorily addressed all impacts related to hydropower operations.
Northfield Mountain, FirstLight’s flagship facility, is New England’s largest energy storage facility. Image credit: FirstLight