CT River Dam Relicensing Offers Rare Input Opportunity

Five hydro-electric facilities on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts and Vermont are seeking renewal of their federal licenses, while area residents and environmental groups are gearing up to seek improvements in their environmental and recreational impacts.

Two of the Massachusetts facilities are owned by First Light Power, one in Northfield, one in Turners Falls. Together they can produce well over 1,000 megawatts of electricity.  Company spokesman Charles Burnham says the Northfield facility operates something like a giant, rechargeable battery.
“Traditionally what we do is use electricity to pump water up into the upper reservoir when power prices are low and then let the water run back down the mountain to produce electricity when power prices are higher. And you’re able to make money off of that spread.”

So it’s not surprising the company is considering expanding the facility’s power production capacity as part of its pending re-licensing application. It’s also not surprising area environmental groups, like the Connecticut River Watershed Council, will be watching closely – and asking for investments that will improve fish passage and habitat. The Council’s Andrea Donlon notes the review process will take six years -but  it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

“FERC gives out a new license that will be somewhere between 30 and 50 years long, usually 40 years. Maybe I’ll be alive the next time it comes around. This really is a rare opportunity to make changes.”

The other Connecticut river hydro stations just entering re-licensing review are in Vernon, Bellows Falls, and Wilder, Vermont.