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A Connecticut River extinction rebellion

Posted by on 30 Dec 2021 | Tagged as: American shad, blueback herring, Clean Water Act, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, Death-Sewer, Delaware LLC, E-Comments, Environmental Protection Agency, EPA, Extinction Rebellion, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FERC, FERC Comments, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, FISH and Wildlife Refuge??, Holyoke Co. v Lyman, Landmark Supreme Court Decision 1872, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, Massachusetts DEP, Massachusetts Division of Fish & Wildlife, Nation's best landscaped sewer, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, nuclear power, P-2485, pumped storage, right-to-know, shad larvae, Silvio O. Conte Connecticut River National Fish and Wildlife Refuge, State of Delaware, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS

A VIRTUAL CONNECTICUT RIVER extinction rebellion has been taking place in the region over the last 10 days. Since December 20, 2021, over three dozen people have gone on the record with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission stating, unequivocally–and in the clearest terms, that NO new license should be issued for the continued operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station by FirstLight. You can read testimony from the latest thirteen people in the text that follows.

Many have taken this action upon being apprised of some of the most basic information about the high stakes games for the Connecticut’s four-state ecosystem being played out behind closed doors right now. Many learned of this through my Opinion piece, “Last light for New England’s Great River” that appeared in the Daily Hampshire Gazette and The Recorder on December 2oth and 21sth, https://www.gazettenet.com/my-turn-meyer-LastLightCtRiver-44127152 .

It outlined the perilous place our ecosystem is teetering in as “confidential” final license settlement negotiations between Canada-owned FirstLight and MA Division of Fish & Wildlife, MA Div. of Environmental Protection, the US Fish & Wildlife Service and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries have been taking place during this month.

This citizen action has galvanized amidst the great void of leadership and wholesale lack of enforcement of any and all state and federal environmental statutes on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts these last 49 years. It’s been a half century of predation on a Connecticut River wholly lacking in a watchdog–in a state where a devastated 23 mile-long ecosystem reach literally flows backwards for miles at times, and virtually millions of resident and migratory fish are been obliterated, annually by the massive, daily, energy-squandering suction of Northfield Mountain’s turbines in their venture capital electricity resale boondoggle.

juvenile Connecticut River shad, dead

* *and this killing is NOTHING compared to the millions of juvenile fish extinguished at Northfield annually. Shad a just one species out of two dozen inhaled and obliterated there–an annual extirpation of literally hundreds of millions of juvenile and adult fish, eggs, and aquatic creatures each year.

Today in Massachusetts the Connecticut River at Northfield remains the deadliest “Nation’s best landscaped sewer”–far more drop-dead-deadly for fish and aquatic life than in the decades prior to the Clean Water Act.

I’m certain, if this river had a voice it would be raising it now to say thank you to the folks below, and the many others, who are taking a stand to save the soul of this ancient ecosystem. To read their words, please follow down.

* * ALSO, as we are at the holiday break, there is STILL time to enter your own on-the-record testimony to FERC. This ecosystem does not belong to FirstLight, or the Commonwealth, or the “environmental” agencies that have so long failed to protect it. It belongs to the children of the future. HERE’S HOW TO ENTER YOUR TESTIMONY:Go to: www.ferc.gov; then to “Documents and Filings”; then click on the “Quick Links” tab for FERC Online on the right; and then to “eComment” on the page that opens. Follow directions for “Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings (P – Project Number),” and BE SURE TO use Northfield’s FERC project number, P-2485, to enter your comments.

THIS is the giant mess in 2010 made when Northfield operators failed at flushing out the accumulated muck, detritus, and death that had been sucked up from the river into their 4 billion gallon reservoir for years. They clogged their mile-long suction tunnels with several feet of mud, and later got caught and ordered to CEASE AND DESIST by the EPA, after dumping truck-load after truck-load of polluting muck directly into the river for over 90 days straight. In direct violation of the CLEAN WATER ACT. This is the MASSIVE RIVER DREDGING OPERATION the EPA ordered. Northfield went down for over HALF a year, yet everyone’s lights stayed on…

* AND HERE ARE THOSE WORDS OF SOME OF THE OTHER FOLKS CURRENTLY TAKING A STAND:


Document Accession #: 20220103-5000 Filed Date: 01/03/2022
Laura Kaye, Northfield, MA.

Dear Commissioners,
I would like to add my voice to those of my neighbors and fellow citizens of Massachusetts, who have written many thousands of words to you in support of our great Connecticut River, which has been so adversely impacted by the pumping station in Northfield – from the waste of energy from fossil fuels burned to send water uphill just so it can flow down back into the river, to the destruction of fish, and more recently impacting our tax base. Please read the detailed comments that so many people have sent to you and DO NOT approve the re licensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumping Station. For the people and the environment upon which we depend for our continuing survival.

Document Accession #: 20211230-5080 Filed Date: 12/30/2021
Mary Hall, South Hadley, MA.

I am seeking to comment on FirstLight’s relicensing bid for the NorthfieldMountain Pumped Storage Station on the Connecticut River.

I consider it is past time for that Pumping Storage Station to cease operation. The ecological costs of operation, as detailed by Karl Meyer of Greenfield, Mary J. Metzger of Westfield, and others is far too great for continued use of this facility to be justifiable.

Mr. Meyer explains how, in order to continue operations, FirstLight has undertaken to avoid tax payments for its use. In the event the facility was economically viable, it would not be necessary to obtain a tax shelter for it to continue to operate.

The Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station is a giant counterbalance to all of our efforts to maintain and restore our Connecticut River ecosystem. There is nothing anyone can do in advocacy for fish and other aquatic life that can remedy the harm that the Storage Station produces. To say again: The fact that FirstLight thought they needed a tax shelter for the Storage Station testifies to the fact that, even as a business, it is not economically viable.

I ask FERC to deny FirstLight’s bid to relicense the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station for the sake of all aquatic life in our beloved Connecticut River ecosystem.

Document Accession #: 20211230-5007 Filed Date: 12/30/2021
Laura Doughty, Wendell, MA.
RE: Hydroelectric License/Re-license Proceedings FERC Project Number P-2485

I urge FERC in the strongest possible terms: Please do NOT relicense First Light’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage facility. If we are to have anychance at keeping a livable planet, we must start *now* to use wiser and more efficient energy storage technologies. It is ridiculous to let this
corporation use far more energy than it can ever create so that it can perpetuate its business model of buying low and selling high. From an energy conservation point of view it makes no sense, but when one considers the vast ecological damage this facility has been allowed to inflict, it is shameful that it has not been shut down long ago. Please do what is right for our river, and for our planet.

Document Accession #: 20211230-5000 Filed Date: 12/30/2021
James Smethurst, Deerfield, MA.

I am writing to oppose the relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage. It has had a devastating impact on aquatic species in the Connecticut River, some of which, like the shortnose sturgeon, are endangered. It serves no useful purpose other than to provide profits for out of state investors. It is not a renewable energy source, but actually an energy drain, given the power required to pump water from the river uphill. The nuclear power plant whose excess energy Northfield Mountain was supposed to repurpose is no more. It is time to close it down.

James Smethurst
5 Pleasant Avenue
Deerfield, MA

Document Accession #: 20211229-5002 Filed Date: 12/29/2021
Rebecca Robbins, Williamsburg, MA.
Dear FERC,

I am concerned about the fish and other aquatic life that get ground to bits at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. Please do not relicense this facility without ensuring the health of the river and the creatures that live in it.

Thank you,
Rebecca Robbins
Williamsburg, MA

Document Accession #: 20211229-5000 Filed Date: 12/29/2021
Betsy Browning, Colrain, MA.

I am writing to voice my opposition to the relicensing of the Northfield Mountain Pump Storage facility. I have learned so much by reading the other letters that I feel morally obligated to add my voice. I grew up within a mile of the French King Bridge and remember the Northfield Mountain project being built. Both Northfield and Erving had great enthusiasm for the bountiful tax money they grew to rely on.

For 49 years the pump storage process has been decimating fish and wildlife along the Connecticut River. Amidst our climate crisis and the threats to species, this living river deserves our protection. Ironically this area is part of the Silvio Conte Fish and Wildlife protected area.

That FirstLight is a subsidiary of Canada owned power company and that they have moved their corporate assets for Northfield Pump Storage and the Turners Falls Hydroelectric to Delaware to avoid Massachusetts taxes, clearly shows their primary goal is maximum profit.

I understand its original plan was to use the excess power from the nuclear plant at Vernon which is now defunct. So using power generated by other means to pump water uphill is now wasteful of resources, outdated, and
impractical.

Someone voiced the brilliant idea that the mountain could be converted to a vast solar site.

Renewing a 50-year license should be unthinkable knowing both the environmental crisis in our midst and the current environmental damage that is occurring daily from the pump storage process.

Document Accession #: 20211229-5084 Filed Date: 12/29/2021
Paul Richmond, WENDELL, MA.

I have a questions why is First Light Power going to sign a new contract
which allows them to continue to use an old technology, which is destroying
the CT River and all life in it. I am speaking of the pumping stations, which sucks up everything in the river and kills it to be pumped out when energy is needed. Storage has been an age old question since we started producing energy. When you have access how to store it. When there was access Nuclear electricity at night when it is consider cheap, they would pump up the water to then release it when they needed electricity at peek times for more money. A reasonable idea if you are an energy company trying to make a profit. Then there is the method you use to do that. Today there are much better batteries being spurred on by alternative energy to address when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing. So why isn’t First Light being asked to stop the old method which was and is destroying the river and store the access energy in batteries, or compressed air storage in the new contract they are about to sign with the state. Please do not sign a new agreement with this in it.

Document Accession #: 20211228-5069 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Sid Siff, Amherst, MA.

I am writing to oppose the rel icensing of FirstLight’s Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage facility on the Connecticut River. At the time of its inception in 1972, it was considered a renewable energy resource, and in 1975 I visited the site on a field trip for a Natural Resource class I was taking at UMass. There was much banter about the benefits of taking ‘extra’ energy from the nearby Vermont Yankee Power Plant in Vernon, and using it to pump water out of the Connecticut River and up to the top of Northfield Mountain, where it was stored and released to spin giant turbines, thereby creating ‘clean’ energy at times of peak demand. Since that time, not only has the nuclear plant been decommissioned, requiring fossil fuel based energy to operate the pumps, but it is well documented that the effect on the ecosystem of the river has been devastating. Multiple species of aquatic life are sucked out of the river in large numbers and killed, on a daily basis. The river acts as a narrow tidal basin, causing extreme bank erosion. The flow of the river is disrupted, leading to inadequate water levels downstream, and a resulting inability of fish to reach critical spawning habitat. Add to this the fact that the facility uses more energy than it creates, it is clearly not, and never was, a source of renewable energy.

Furthermore, FirstLight has demonstrated a clear disregard for not only every living species in the river ecosytem, but also for the people of Massachusetts, by registering Northfield Mountain and Turner’s Falls hydroelectric facilities into Delaware tax shelters, depriving Massachusetts of any tax revenue.

Perhaps by creating a closed loop system, with a reservoir at the bottom of the mountain that is completely separated from the river, and using any excess offshore wind energy to operate the pumps, Northfield Mountain could be a viable energy source going forward. But in its current state, it’s an outdated, dangerous and extremely harmful and wasteful behemoth that should be put to rest.

Document Accession #: 20211228-5066 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Graham Hayward, NORTHFIELD, MA.

I do not want First Light’s bid for re-licensing to be approved. All they’ve done behind benefit of closed doors must be moved out into the light of day and a public forum.

This is one of many matters that won’t “fly” anymore and all those involved will be dealt with, these days of theft are over.
Thank you,
Graham Hayward

Document Accession #: 20211228-5065 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Betsy Corner, Shelburne Falls, MA.
Concerning P-2485 for Northfield Mountain

For the past 50 years I’ve witnessed and read about the damage that the Northfield Mountain Pump Storage facility has caused to the Connecticut River and its inhabitants. Certainly common sense tells us that the kind of system that uses more energy than it produces is antiquated and foolish. It’s clear that relicensing this facility would be done in the financial interests of the owner of the corporation that seems to have power over those who are involved in granting another 50 year long license. Residents of the Connecticut Valley must have a transparent licensing process, not the closed door one that has been on-going. It’s high time to protect the river’s ecology and to look at the big picture of money and politics as it affects all of us in this decision.

Document Accession #: 20211228-5058 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Dave Dersham, Northampton, MA.

I write to you concerning project number P-2485:
The kinetic energy that FirstLight consumes to push the Connecticut river
backwards and up Northfield Mountain, exceeds the potential energy eventually gained.

Simultaneously, 10s of thousands of small fry become pulverized by being
sucked into the hydro electric turbines placed at the midpoint of this
convoluted design. The result is essentially an aquatic Rube Goldberg killing machine, despite the substandard netting placed in the river meant to divert the inexorable fate of the baby fish.

This procedure, which has been going on for decades, is the exact opposite of sustainability both energetically and ecologically ” and needs to
finally stop.

FirstLight does not deserve to be granted another 50 year license.
Thank you for your attention,
Dave Dersham

Document Accession #: 20211228-5048 Filed Date: 12/28/2021
Garrett D Connelly, Greenfield, MA.

Hello,
I am writing this request that you revoke First Light’s operation permit for the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Facility so that you know one more person stands against United States policies that disregard life on Earth and serve only short term profit. And in this case it is a false profit.

FERC employees know short-term profits are small relative to the economic
benefits of a clean and free flowing Connecticut river as well as I do,
probably much better. For this reason I won’t try to fit a list of economic
and environmental benefits from a clean and free flowing river and simply
describe what clear thinking people in the future might do instead.

Visualize a line of pollution sensors across a free flowing river that is so clean it has become a world renowned tourist destination. One of the sensors registers a trace of some cancer inducing chemical and enlightened employees of a future country that cares about life spring into action. Chemical sensors follow the pollution to its source and the activity causing it is stopped and cleaned up.

We all know the energy used by consumer societies is leading to extinction of human life on Earth. The wealth generated by free flowing clean rivers can only happen when energy regulators know how much energy is required by a modern and healthy nation. FERC knows far better than I that the real economy does not require a fake enterprise destroying river life for unreal paper profits so I stop here.

Please think about it from a pro-life perspective and then deny the permit to operate a fake business that destroys real life. Deny the permit that allows operation of the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Facility.
Sincerely,
Garrett Connelly

Document Accession #: 20211227-5224 Filed Date: 12/27/2021
Robert F Porzio, Putney, VT.
Bob Porzio, Putney VT

Dear Federal Energy Regulatory Commission,
Please do not grant a new federal license for the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, P-2485. This plant has done huge damage to the river for the last half century, reversing flows and killing fish while squandering massive
amount of energy. As a Vermont resident it is unacceptable to allow this machine to kill migrating fish that should be reaching our section of river, but are swallowed by this deadly plant on their upstream and downstream travels. We folks upstream are entitled to a thriving river and a share of its migratory fish.

Thank you,
Robert Porzio
Putney VT

“Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply

Posted by on 01 Oct 2018 | Tagged as: Ashuelot River, Bellows Falls, blueback herring, canal shad, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, crippled ecosystem, Dead Reach, ecosystem, endangerd shortnose sturgeon, Endangered Species Act, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FERC Commissioner Neil Chatterjee, FERC license, FirstLight, Fish and Aquatics Study Team, fish counts, fish kill, fish kill on the Connecticut, fish passage, fishway windows, Holyoke Fish Lift, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, MA Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, New Hampshire, NMFS, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, nuclear power, PSP Investments, Public Law 98-138, pumped storage, Relicensing, resident river fish, Saxtons River, Scott Pruitt, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Society of Environmental Journalists, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vermont Digger, Vermont Yankee

Copyright © 2018 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved.

NOTE: the following piece appeared in VTDigger, www.vtdigger.org in September under the heading “Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply when crippling an ecosystem.”

TERMS OF ENTRAINMENT: a Connecticut River History


NOTE:in this photo are over 170 juvenile shad, among the many thousands killed in the recent de-watering of the Turners Falls Power Canal. The power canal is where the bulk of the Connecticut River is diverted into for most months of the year. So, when they drain it, they are killing the river. However, if you look at this photo and multiply that death toll by 10,000 you begin to get some idea of the mortality counts for young-of-the-year shad entrained annually–and un-tallied across nearly five decades, at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station. (CLICK, then CLICK twice more to enlarge photos.)

At 2:41 p.m. on May 20, 2018, a lone blueback herring appeared in the windows at Turners Falls Dam among a school of larger American shad. It was a small miracle. Barely a foot long, it was the first blueback here since 2005, and there would not be another this spring. Like those shad, its life had already spanned four springs, swimming thousands of ocean miles in shimmering schools. It re-crossed bays and estuaries of seven states and two provinces before reaching this Connecticut River juncture. In doing so it had survived sprawling drift nets and repeated attacks from sharks, bluefish, spiny dogfish, cormorants, seals and striped bass.

All these fish were seeking to spawn and give their young a head start as far upriver as currents, time and temperature would allow. Unfortunately, five miles upstream sat the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, a river vacuuming machine capable of out-killing all their natural predators. For the next 20 miles they’d be vulnerable to its impacts.

NMPS has inhaled river fish of all species and sizes daily for nearly half a century. Results from a river sampling study Juvenile Shad Assessment in the Connecticut River, were released in June by the US Fish & Wildlife Service and MA Division of Fisheries & Wildlife. They estimated NMPS’s 2017 operations resulted in losses of some 15 million shad eggs and larvae, plus the deaths of between 1 and 2-1/2 million juvenile shad. That’s for just one species.

On April 20, 1967, years before Northfield was built, federal agencies and four states signed the Statement of Intent for a Cooperative Fishery Restoration Program for the Connecticut River, agreeing to restore runs of American shad, salmon and blueback herring upstream to Bellows Falls, Vermont and beyond. The migratory shortnose sturgeon had already been listed as endangered. Continuing today under Public Law 98-138, its mandate requires utilization of “the full potential of the fishery resources of the Connecticut River including both anadromous and resident species,” providing “high quality sport fishing,” and meeting “the long term needs of the population for seafood.”

American shad are still commercially fished today just 60 miles downriver. They’ve provided seafood to this valley for ages, yet most people in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts don’t know they were promised a “just share of the fishery harvest” back in 1967. All remain without, while shad continue to grace dinner and restaurant tables in Connecticut every spring.

Running on imported power via the buy-low/sell-high model, Northfield can suck the river into reverse for up to a mile downstream. It devours everything captured in that vortex at 15,000 cubic feet per second. Think 15,000 milk crates, for hours, to fill a 5 billion gallon mountain reservoir. The result is 100% mortality for all fish entrained. During peak-use and/or peak-price times—or both, it sends the deadened water back through its turbines as twice-produced electricity.

NOTE: more of the TF Canal kill here in another location–including mostly juvenile shad, but also a bluegill, several mud-puppies, and a young sea lamprey. Again, this is just a whisper of the year round fish kill occurring upstream at Northfield Mountain.

Northfield was built to run off Vermont Yankee’s excess nuclear megawatts. But even after VY closed in 2014, its carnage continued, unchallenged, rather than being relegated to emergency use. Having never produced a watt of its own power, its 46 years of accumulating carnage are yet to be tallied. That herring might have been heading for New Hampshire’s Ashuelot or Vermont’s Saxtons River, and those shad were perhaps steering for the Great Eddy at Bellows Falls. Regardless, any progeny would later face Northfield’s net-loss-power impacts heading downriver come fall.

Currently it pumps mostly at night when Canadian owners PSP Investments can purchase cheap electricity to suction the river uphill. Later it’s released as second-hand juice at peak-of-the-day profits. Promoters claim the benefits of dispersed solar and wind power can’t be realized without first relaying their renewable energy across the region to this lethal storage machine for later resale in markets far beyond the Connecticut Valley. “Clean, renewable” labels don’t apply when crippling an ecosystem.

NMPS boosters include (now-former) EPA Director Scott Pruitt, who made a sweetheart visit there last Valentine’s Day along with Federal Energy Regulatory Commissioner Neil Chatterjee. That occurred as PSP was requesting to suction yet more water from the Connecticut and applying for a new long-term FERC license. The next day FERC announced a major policy shift, potentially increasing both Northfield’s daytime use and its profits.

Since an 1872 landmark Supreme Court ruling indemnifying Holyoke Dam, all hydro facilities have been required to safely pass the public’s fish, upstream and down. But that 1967 agreement had this warning: “Based on the present fragmentary data available on the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, it appears that this project poses definite limitations to an anadromous fish restoration program. These limitations involve the physical loss of eggs, larvae and young fish of both resident and anadromous species, and an orientation problem for both upstream and downstream migrants attributed to pumping large volumes of water.” Today the 20 mile reach hosting Northfield remains a migration minefield—while some 30 miles of open Vermont/New Hampshire spawning habitat above Vernon Dam sits essentially empty.

Holyoke Dam has annually lifted hundreds of thousands of shad and herring upstream since the 1970s. In 2017 it recorded its second highest shad numbers ever, 537,000 fish. Each spring, half or more of those shad attempt to pass Turners Falls. Less than 10-in-100 will succeed. Of those, some 50% drop from tallies and are never re-counted at Vernon Dam after entering the 20 miles impacted by Northfield. The blueback herring record at Turners Falls was 9,600 in 1986, out of the 517,000 counted 36 miles downstream at Holyoke that year. Of those 9,600 Turners herrings, just 94 reached Vernon Dam. Turners Falls saw another 7,500 blueback herring in 1991; just 383 reappeared upstream at Vernon.

Any new long-term FERC license must comply with federal and state law protecting endangered and public-trust fish. In seeking a new license, PSP’s main proposal for limiting Northfield’s massive carnage has been the test-anchoring of a few yards of Kevlar netting in the riverbed in front of the plant’s suction-and-surge tunnel. Those flag-sized yards of mesh, after a few months deployment, are supposed to effectively model how a 1,000 foot-long “exclusion net”–deployed seasonally in the river over the next decades, might halt the entrainment deaths of out-migrating adult–and millions of juvenile young-of-the year fish, heading back to the sea. Presumably, Northfield’s mouth would remain wide open to the ecosystem’s fish throughout the rest of the year.

In light of longstanding research the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission and Connecticut River Atlantic Salmon Commission have set shad passage goals requiring that a minimum of 397,000 pass Turners Falls; and a minimum of 226,000 pass Vernon Dam. It’s a certainty that a new fish lift will be required at Turners Falls under any new license, modeled on the long-term success of Holyoke’s lifts. But the ultimate question is this: can Northfield comply with federal and state law protecting the four-state ecosystem’s fish in order to be granted a new FERC license?

END

Karl Meyer has been a stakeholder and member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the current FERC relicensing process for the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Rolling over on a River: the real cost of pumped storage energy

Posted by on 26 Oct 2016 | Tagged as: American shad, climate change, Connecticut River, Connecticut River ecosystem, Connecticut River Watershed Council, Daily Hampshire Gazette, ecosystem, Entrainment, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federally-endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeion, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, fossil fuels, Greenfield Recorder, ISO New England, MA Division of Fish and Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, NMFS, NOAA, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Reservoir, nuclear power, Public Comment period, public trust, pumped storage, Relicensing, shad, shortnose sturgeon, Society of Environmental Journalists, The Recorder, Turners Falls power canal, US Fish & Wildlife Service, USFWS, Vermont, Vermont Digger, Vermont Yankee

Copyright © 2016 by Karl Meyer

(Note: this essay appeared in September and October in these MA and VT media and newspaper outlets: Vermont Digger, www.vtdigger.org ; The Daily Hampshire Gazette; and The Recorder.)

besttfemptybed

The de-watered CT below Turners Falls Dam that few people see. (Click, then click again to enlarge.)

Rolling over on a river

Since time began rivers have been the Earth’s arteries—the foundation of its ecosystems. Here in New England it’s “last chance” time for our Great River. On April 30, 2018 the fate of the long-foundered Connecticut River migratory fisheries restoration—and the survival of a four-state river ecosystem, will be decided for what’s essentially forever. New Federal Energy Regulatory Commission hydro licenses are expected to be signed then by government agencies and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board–latest purchaser of the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain projects. That company’s stated investor mandate is “to maximize investment returns without undue risk of loss.”

Over two generations ago public-trust mistakes were made favoring power companies, fish hatcheries, and high-end salmon-fishing interests that rendered eight miles of the Connecticut in Massachusetts a massively-suctioned, partially-dewatered flush sink. Sanctioned by fisheries agencies and non-profits, those decisions, severed an ecosystem in two. They forced all migrating fish into a deadly power canal, leaving three emptied miles of riverbed below Turners Falls Dam, while four turbines at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station five miles upstream consumed massive amounts of nuclear energy to suck a river backward and uphill to a mountaintop reservoir.

Those turbines were built to run on the promised endless supply of overproduced juice generated nightly at the local, now-closed, Vermont Yankee nuke, 15 miles away. Today, running on giant slugs of imported fossil fuel, they continue to spin, sucking the river up in endless gulps into a 4 billion gallon pool a mile up Northfield Mountain. That daily suctioning creates riverbank eroding “tides” higher than those at Hyannisport, MA—with some rivaling the ten-foot fluctuations of Fundy Bay.

Back then, predecessors of today’s National Marine Fisheries Service, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, Massachusetts’ Fish & Wildlife and the Connecticut River Watershed Council signed off on an agreement with the Federal Power Commission and Western Massachusetts Electric that strangled the river in northern Massachusetts. It resulted in the failure of migratory fish passage and a promised renewal of the river’s ancient seafood resources upstream to Vermont, New Hampshire, and northern Mass. Few American shad emerged alive after diversion into that canal. It also failed the shortnose sturgeon—this river’s only federally endangered migratory fish, leaving it without flow or monitoring at its only documented natural spawning site.

Upstream at Northfield the destruction was yet more complete. The suck and gush appetite of that nuclear-charged contraption virtually disassembled the river. It gulped flow at a rate of 15,000 cubic feet per second, often for hours at a time—drawing on the river pool above Turners Falls Dam where, 70% of the time, the Connecticut’s natural routed flow is less than 15,000 cfs. Boaters a mile downstream could find themselves drifting upriver via Northfield’s unearthly pull. All fish and organisms drawn up through the sphere of that suction were deemed “functionally extirpated”–dead to the ecosystem by virtue of being sieved twice through the turbines. It was evolution in reverse, a river ripped away from its eternal run to the sea.

Today, climate-blind FERC labels Northfield as a source of “renewable clean” energy—but there’s nothing clean, renewable or sustainable about its imported, twice-produced, peak-priced electricity crippling this river. ISO New England, FERC’s Northfield-cheering, ever-energy-hungry cousin, also ignores climate and its environmental dismemberment. “Pumped storage” is not hydropower—not even by the industry’s own technical terminology. Northfield-produced power in fact represents the heavy planetary burden of fossil fuel used to push a mountain of water uphill, merely as a weight to produce high-cost, second hand electricity. It cares nothing of rivers, fish or ecosystems.

If bureaucrats again fail the public trust and don’t demand critical habitat protections, flows, and the day-to-day monitoring needed to fulfill U.S. environmental statutes, Canadian pension speculators will be left as the de facto controlling interests on our river. The new owners have asked FERC to merge two separate licenses for Northfield and Turners Falls into a single new license dubbed the “Northfield Project.” What’s represented as mere bureaucratic streamlining would actually enshrine, by precedent–next time and forever, river-killing pumped storage.

Any responsible environmental agency should deny this single-license merger, and seek to have Northfield kept in use as emergency infrastructure only—with the ultimate remedy it’s dismantling in tandem with a move to a decentralized, far less vulnerable system than today’s expanding mega-grid. Massachusetts legislators are currently signing onto backroom energy deals for a glut of future hydropower from Quebec. Some 1,200 megawatts of those penciled-in imports could easily replace the few hours of daily juice Northfield puts out–while keeping it available for rare emergencies. Though the new Canadian power imports largely ignore conservation and innovation, they could be employed to end the river carnage here and begin restoring a future for a critical New England ecosystem.

(Note: timely public comment on licensing issues is carefully considered by FERC. Go to: http://ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp and use “E-Comment.” Check “Hydro” and address to Secretary Kimberly D. Bose, using the required identifiers “P-2485” and “P-1889” for Northfield and Turners Falls.)

Karl Meyer lives in Greenfield MA. He is participating in the FERC relicensing process and is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.