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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.)

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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.

New comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

Posted by on 16 Nov 2015 | Tagged as: 5-year FERC licensing process, American shad, canal shad, Connecticut River, Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon, Dr. Boyd Kynard, Extinction, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, federal trust fish, federally-endangered shortnose sturgeon, FERC, FERC license, FERC licensing process, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, migratory delay, power canal studies, Public Comment period, Relicensing, Revised Study Plan, Rock Dam, Rock Dam Pool, shad, shad fishing, shortnose sturgeon, Station 1, Turners Falls, Turners Falls dam, Turners Falls power canal, Vermont

The following comments were submitted to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on November 13, 2015, respecting relicensing studies occurring at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station and at the Turners Falls Dam and Canal. They are designated, respectively as: P-2485; and P-1889.

Karl Meyer, M.S. Environmental Science
85 School Street # 3
Greenfield, MA, 01301
413-773-0006 November 13, 2014

The Honorable Kimberly D. Bose, Secretary
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
88 First Street, NE
Washington, DC 20426

ILP COMMENTS on Updated Study Reports—including Disagreements/Modifications to Study/Propose New Study on Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project P- 1889, and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project P-2485.

Dear Secretary Bose,

The Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project, P-1889, and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, P-2485, are currently undergoing studies through the 5-year FERC relicensing process. The majority of the fish and aquatics studies remain incomplete at this time. However, having attended the recent study update meetings with FirstLight’s consultants, and as a member of the Fish & Aquatics Studies Team for P-2485 and P-1889, please accept these brief comments on the USR and proposals for modifications and new studies needed in the FERC ILP for these projects. As studies are brought to completion and data and results are shared with Stakeholders I will submit further comments.

3.3.2 Evaluate Upstream and Downstream Passage of American Shad

Needed information from this study: from personal observations I noted many days when Station 1 was in operation. I visited the site, took some photos, and interviewed a fisherman who was busy catching shad at the Station 1 Outflow on 5/24/2015. In good light, and without the advantage of polarizing sunglasses, I observed dozens of shad stacked up like cordwood, treading water there. The gentlemen noted that whenever Station 1 is running “there are always fish here.” The report should include information about tagged fish delayed in this false attraction water. It is also critical to delineate the number of days during testing that Station 1 was in operation.

3.3.6 Impact of Project Operations on Shad Spawning, Spawning Habitat and Egg Deposition in the Area of the Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls Projects.

In their update the applicant’s team stated that “because minimal shad spawning was observed in the Turners Falls Canal, no spawning areas in the canal were identified for further examination.”

Needed information from this study: at what hour, on what dates, and under what conditions were these “minimal” spawning observations made? Did they return to the site again under different, or more favorable conditions? What was the water temperature? Was it raining? Windy? Cloudy? Was Cabot Station running at the time-and how many units? Was Station 1 in operation on the nights they made their observations?

These are basic questions that require adequate answers as the TF Canal has been the bottleneck for the shad run up through Northern Massachusetts and into Vermont and New Hampshire these last 40 years. The canal appears to be culling off part of the run as a spawning trap. A thorough understanding of why fish are lingering there, and clear assessment of the numbers and delays of fish attempting to spawn in the canal is necessary for informed decision making.

3.3.18 Impacts of the Turners Falls Canal Drawdown on Fish Migration and Aquatic Organisms.

Needed information from this study: This study needs to be extended for another year. On October 5, 2015, I took a 20-minute walk through a small segment of the canal at 7:00 a.m. on the morning the canal had drained. On the flats far–from the thalweg where most of the 2014 assessment appears to have taken place, thousands of fish lay struggling, stranded, and dead in the drying pools. These included juvenile American shad, yellow perch, juvenile and “transformer” sea lamprey, one 8-inch chain pickerel, one crayfish, and thousands of tiny, unidentified YOY fish in drying pools and rills that led to nowhere.

These observations were made crossing just a few—out of the many acres, of silt and muck “shoulder habitat” that occurs away from the main channel on both the east and west sides of the TF Canal. A more thorough mortality assessment needs to be made across these habitats to have a full understanding of the impacts of the canal drawdown migrating and resident fish.

REQUEST for New Study: Tagging and Spawning Study of the Connecticut River Shortnose Sturgeon at the Rock Dam Pool in Turners Falls.

The USFWS’s fish passage and dam specialist John Warner reports that both downstream and upstream modifications for fish passage at Holyoke Dam will be completed this winter. New entrances and exits allowing CT River SNS to move upstream beyond that site will be working in spring 2016.

In light of the construction at Holyoke and the 2016 continuation of test flows evaluations on spring migrants in the By-Pass Reach at Turners Falls, testing of spawning success for SNS should be done at their documented natural spawning site–the Rock Dam in Turners Falls, in spring 2016. Regardless of any fine tuning needed at the Holyoke facility, some SNS will return to the Rock Dam pool by the last week of April, and the chance to study their spawning success in light of regulated test flows presents a unique opportunity for the only federally endangered migratory fish on the Connecticut River.

If this fish is ever to benefit from new genetic input, a full understanding of suitable flows at Rock Dam to accommodate spawning is necessary information going forward for a fish that has been decades on the cusp of extinction. It’s an opportunity to restore a part of the public trust.

For further information on longstanding research at this site without required test flows, see Kynard, B. and Kieffer, M.C., et al: Life History and Behaviour of Connecticut River shortnose and other sturgeons, published in 2102 by the World Sturgeon Conservation Society, ISBN 978-3-8448-2801-6.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the USR for these projects.

Sincerely,
Karl Meyer, M.S. Environmental Science
Greenfield, MA

FERC Notice of Northfield Mountain expansion request, and Public Comment period

Posted by on 05 Sep 2014 | Tagged as: Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, FirstLight, GDF-Suez FirstLight, Motion to Intervene, Northfield Mountain, Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, Public Comment period

On September 4, 2014, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued the following Notice of Application for FirstLight Hydro Generating Company’s request to expand operations at the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, P-2485-065. Public COMMENTS, MOTIONS TO INTERVENE, and PROTEST filings will be accepted by FERC for 30 Days from their September 4, 2014 Notice.

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION

FirstLight Hydro Generating Company Project No. 2485-065

NOTICE OF APPLICATION ACCEPTED FOR FILING, SOLICITING COMMENTS, MOTIONS TO INTERVENE, AND PROTESTS

(September 4, 2014)

Take notice that the following hydroelectric application has been filed with the Commission and is available for public inspection:

a. Type of Application: Application for Temporary Amendment of Minimum and Maximum Reservoir Elevation Requirement

b. Project No.: 2485-065

c. Date Filed: August 8, 2014

d. Applicant: FirstLight Hydro Generating Company (Firstlight)

e. Name of Project: Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project

f. Location: The project is located on the east side of the Connecticut River, in the towns of Northfield and Erving, in Franklin County, Massachusetts.

g. Filed Pursuant to: Federal Power Act, 16 USC 791(a)-825(r).

h. Applicant Contact: Mr. John Howard, Director of FERC Compliance, FirstLight Hydro Generating Company, 99 Millers Falls Road, Northfield, MA 01360. Phone (413) 659-4489.

i. FERC Contact: Mr. Christopher Chaney, (202) 502-6778, or christopher.chaney@ferc.gov.

j. Deadline for filing comments, motions to intervene, protests, and recommendations is 30 days from the issuance date of this notice by the Commission. The Commission strongly encourages electronic filing. Please file motions to intervene, protests, comments, or recommendations using the Commission’s eFiling system at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/efiling.asp. Commenters can submit brief comments up to 6,000 characters, without prior registration, using the eComment system at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/ecomment.asp. You must include your name and contact information at the end of your comments. For assistance, please contact FERC Online Support at FERCOnlineSupport@ferc.gov, (866) 208-3676 (toll free), or (202) 502-8659 (TTY). In lieu of electronic filing, please send a paper copy to: Secretary, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First Street, NE, Washington, DC 20426. Please include the project number (P-2485-065) on any comments, motions to intervene, protests, or recommendations filed.
k. Description of Request: FirstLight is seeking temporary authorization to modify the upper reservoir’s upper and lower water surface elevation limits from 1000.5 and 938 feet, to 1004.5 and 920 feet, respectively. FirstLight proposes to use the additional storage capacity between December 1, 2014, and March 31, 2014. According to FirstLight approval of changes in the water surface elevations would result in an increase in the maximum daily generation from 8,475 megawatt-hours (MWh) to 10,645 MWh.

l. Locations of the Application: A copy of the application is available for inspection and reproduction at the Commission’s Public Reference Room, located at 888 First Street, NE, Room 2A, Washington, DC 20426, or by calling (202) 502-8371. This filing may also be viewed on the Commission’s website at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/elibrary.asp. Enter the docket number excluding the last three digits in the docket number field to access the document (i.e. P-2485). You may also register online at http://www.ferc.gov/docs-filing/esubscription.asp to be notified via email of new filings and issuances related to this or other pending projects. For assistance, call 1-866-208- 3676 or e-mail FERCOnlineSupport@ferc.gov, for TTY, call (202) 502-8659. A copy is also available for inspection and reproduction at the address in item (h) above.

m. Individuals desiring to be included on the Commission’s mailing list should so indicate by writing to the Secretary of the Commission.

n. Comments, Protests, or Motions to Intervene: Anyone may submit comments, a protest, or a motion to intervene in accordance with the requirements of Rules of Practice and Procedure, 18 CFR 385.210, .211, .214. In determining the appropriate action to take, the Commission will consider all protests or other comments filed, but only those who file a motion to intervene in accordance with the Commission’s Rules may become a party to the proceeding. Any comments, protests, or motions to intervene must be received on or before the specified comment date for the particular application.

o. Filing and Service of Responsive Documents: Any filing must (1) bear in all capital letters the title “COMMENTS”, “PROTEST”, or “MOTION TO INTERVENE” as applicable; (2) set forth in the heading the name of the applicant and the project number of the application to which the filing responds; (3) furnish the name, address, and telephone number of the person protesting or intervening; and (4) otherwise comply with the requirements of 18 CFR 385.2001 through 385.2005. All comments, motions to intervene, or protests must set forth their evidentiary basis and otherwise comply with the requirements of 18 CFR 4.34(b). All comments, motions to intervene, or protests should relate to project works which are the subject of the license surrender. Agencies may obtain copies of the application directly from the applicant. A copy of any protest or motion to intervene must be served upon each representative of the applicant specified in the particular application. If an intervener files comments or documents with the Commission relating to the merits of an issue that may affect the responsibilities of a particular resource agency, they must also serve a copy of the document on that resource agency. A copy of all other filings in reference to this application must be accompanied by proof of service on all persons listed in the service list prepared by the Commission in this proceeding, in accordance with 18 CFR 4.34(b) and 385.2010.

Kimberly D. Bose,
Secretary.