NOTE: Since this is SUNSHINE WEEK, highlighting the PUBLIC’S RIGHT TO KNOW, the following posts contain material that few might know otherwise, or see anywhere else. The first, immediately below, is my piece that appeared in The Recorder on March 13. BUT PLEASE, do continue reading as the second offering is my letter and information request to Mr. Peter Brandien, Vice President of System Operations at ISO-New England. Brandien recently wrote a glowing endorsement of the grim machinery at Northfield Mountain to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Here, I reply to his letter, and invite him to take part in a public forum on the future of the Connecticut River ecosystem.

THE CONNECTICUT’S NUCLEAR NIGHTMARE
Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

This April 30th the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, the most efficient aquatic killer of all nuclear age machines installed on the Connecticut, begins its 4th year without a new federal license. NMPS’s massive suction kills everything it inhales. Federal studies on America shad show tens of millions of eggs and larvae extinguished annually, plus the deaths of over 2 million juvenile shad sucked in on migrations to the sea. Its unstudied impacts on 20 odd other resident and migrant species leave plenty more death to ponder.

Vermont Yankee—the nuke Northfield once sucked its energy from, closed in 2014. Rather than creating virgin electricity, NMPS is a net-loss, gravity-defying machine that consumes 30% more juice than it returns to the grid. Its annual power deficit is so high it actually cancels out most of the real hydropower input generated yearly in the Turner Falls canal. Today half of NMPS’s net power loss operations are powered on climate-scorching natural gas, another quarter comes from imported nuclear, and the rest largely from shipped-in Canadian hydro.

The New England power grid has and can chug along without NMPS’s massive daily impacts. But it’s a big-grid cash cow that ISO-New England–the “independent” system operator, has long kept ratepayers tied-to for its few hours of deadly, once-through, stored generation. That deadly, daily regime should have long ago been stopped–relegated to its early-stated use in rare power emergencies. But the Baker Administration and PSP Investments, NMPS’s Canadian parent owners, are looking to pair-up and shackle further use of this ecosystem crippler with distant ocean turbines for decades. It’s a twisted, fairytale climate “solution”—an environmental nightmare for future generations. The Greek myth will be told as “Ocean Sent to Kill Its River Children.”

This April 30th Hudson Riverkeeper will celebrate the end of a long nuclear-age nightmare. Entergy’s last Indian Point nuke shuts down for good that day, years before its license expires. That comes via legal agreements hammered out by Riverkeeper along with the State of New York—and joined by the group Scenic Hudson. That early shutdown will reportedly save the 1.2 billion fish, larvae and eggs sucked to their deaths in Indian Point tunnels where flow is massively swallowed at rates of 2-1/2 billion gallons per day. Northfield Mountain’s river gorging is yet more grim. Its anti-gravity, twice-through turbines render it fully lethal.

Riverkeeper’s victory actually dates to 1966 when a small group of commercial and recreational anglers formed the Hudson River Fishermen’s Association, vowing fight Consolidated Edison. Giant Con Ed wanted to blast apart Storm King Mountain for a cavernous, river-suctioning pumped storage plant. Huge slugs of energy would be needed to suck hours-long river diversions uphill to a reservoir. The mega-juice needed for that massive lifting would hail from the excess output of the Indian Point nuclear station. But HRFA saw pumped storage as a pact with the devil, a grim fish shredder. They took to the streets; then dragged Con Ed into court.

It took 15 years, but in 1980 HRFA and Scenic Hudson won that David and Goliath battle against Con Ed’s building of Storm King. It’s credited as spurring the environmental movement in the United States. HRFA changed its name to Riverkeeper in 1980. Today its take-no-prisoners mission in prosecuting corporate offenders is a model of river defense. Riverkeeper and its offshoot Waterkeeper now boast over 350 chapters across the US and worldwide. They’ve won cases on the Hudson against the likes of Exxon-Mobil, General Electric—even New York State, itself.

In Massachusetts, Northfield’s nuclear-age killing continues daily–though this river’s last nuke, Vermont Yankee, shut in 2014. NMPS has been the festering daily wound to this ecosystem from the Vernon Dam to Turners Falls since it was completed by WMECO/Northeast Utilities in 1972 to run on VY’s juice. VY and Northfield came on line together. Founded in 1952, The Connecticut River Watershed Council was over a decade old when NU/WMECO proposed their contraption in the mid-60s. Sadly, CRWC never challenged them. They were fully 20 years old when Northfield went live. Forty decades on CRWC remained silent again on NMPS in 2014 when VY closed.

While HRFA waged its battle, opportunity was endlessly squandered here. Today NU remains the perennial major funder/sponsor of CRWC’s marquee “Source to Sea Cleanup.” They now do business as Eversource while CRWC is renamed the Connecticut River Conservancy. A close financial relationship has long existed between the two. In January Eversource was cited as the largest spender in opposing climate and clean energy bills in the Bay State. The study, “Whose Delaying Climate Action in Massachusetts,” was authored by Galen Hall, Trevor Culhane, and J. Timmons Roberts of Brown University’s Climate and Development Lab. Why do the green-washing for a corporation that built our river’s worst nightmare? For mission, fight and enforcement, other models exist.

Karl Meyer is has been a member of the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team for the federal relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage and Turner Falls hydro projects since 2012. Meyer lives in Greenfield MA. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

BELOW: my March 18, 2021 Letter to Mr. Peter Brandien, Vice President of System Operations, ISO-New England (the “independent” system operator)

Photo: The emptied and dead Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir in 2010 when an earlier FirstLight incarnation choked on its own suctioned silt, failed massively, and was later caught dumping its muck directly into the Connecticut River for MONTHS until sanctioned by the EPA for gross violation of the Clean Water Act. Northfield sat idle, emptied, and sanctioned by the EPA, and didn’t operate from May until November. The power grid held together just fine… Photo Copyright © 2021 by Karl Meyer

Dear Ms. Horgan and Mr. Brandien of ISO-New England,

Thank you for sharing your endorsement of PSP Investments FirstLight Power facilities, registered in Delaware and owned by that Canadian venture capital firm with us all. I’m sure you make them very happy. As both a stakeholder participating in the FERC investigations to explore the now-extended federal licenses of the projects you mention, P-2485, and P-1889, I have a few questions I’d love answered–particularly since I’m a journalist, and this is Sunshine Week, a time designated to spotlight government transparency and accountability. It’s about the public’s right to know.

Please, Mr. Brandien, can you tell us–in general terms of course, exactly how many times this past year that the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project was called up for immediate emergency use–or whether is was used in that capacity at all? Just broadly, please? Not at all? Once, in a year? Twice? I recall two, perhaps three times large utility suppliers were given a little standby notice, and cautioned not to promise out all their juice. But that is different than NMPS, and nonetheless, here we are talking about a few individual days out of the entire operating year.

Was there even a single grid slump or disruption where the year-round power loss and consumption of that NMPS machine actually was deployed by ISO, or is it just a hugely impactful standby machine–allowed to make gobs of profit and net-loss dumps onto the wires as an everyday hostage supported by ratepayers?

I’m wondering if you ISO folks have ever heard of conservation? It’s a term even older than NMPS. Another term of similar vintage is ecosystem–do you know that one? I’m wondering if you have grandchildren at all–those little people who are now relying on us to pass along living ecosystems?

I find it funny how your grid works at times. Here, at places like Northfield, the river gets reversed, the ecosystem pulls apart, and millions of fish and aquatic creatures are extirpated with its daily use, while the profits get washed through Delaware, then head to Canada. As I have written, the massive waste to pump a river uphill there erases nearly all the megawatt input created by actual hydro downstream at Cabot Station and Station 1. Meanwhile, FirstLight has promised out some 40% of that downstream juice as “clean” and “renewable” power to Eastern Massachusetts towns far from this Valley–even from where you are located in Holyoke. That leaves no local energy for the residents where that hydropower is produced. Are you familiar with the term environmental justice?

One last funny twist here. As noted, we share the same valley–you are in Holyoke. I’m pretty sure the struggling folks in Holyoke have very little understanding that a special line from the Holyoke Gas and Electric Company Dam feeds directly to the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center run mostly for private interests including Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, University of Massachusetts, Northeastern University and Boston University, as well as EMC Corp., of Hopkinton, an information storage, backup and recovery firm, and Cisco Systems Inc., a California-based Internet network equipment maker. That dedicated line sucks up something like 30% of all the hydro generated at the Holyoke Dam to run a heat sink of 16,000 high speed computers in a nearby building that employs slightly more than a dozen people. Who does this benefit in ISO’s big picture? Climate, ecosystems?; the grandchildren?–the citizens of Holyoke? You also run a massive bank of computers at your facility in that town. I know that you have some “green” plantings and solar panels around the facility, but could you tell use how much juice you consume in a year?

Finally, as a journalist I’d like to offer an opportunity for a public discussion about energy and the future of the Connecticut River ecosystem. I appear at times on a few local radio stations down in Northampton. It would be illuminating to put together a public forum on these topics and you can share with Valley citizens what you have in store for our futures. I’m quite serious. Please let me know, and I’m sure I can get it arranged.

Oh, and PS: We’d love to see the ban on journalists ended at NEPOOL, the big corporate steering ship that tilts and informs so much of your policy.

Sincerely and all best wishes,
Karl Meyer
Fish and Aquatic Studies, P-2485; P-1889.

Karl Meyer, MS
Member of the Society of Environmental Journalists