The Recorder - My Turn: The selling of New England’s river

Published: 12/11/2020 2:45:49 PM Modified: 12/11/2020 2:45:37 PM On Nov. 12 FirstLight and broker Energy New England sent out a pai...



Published: 12/11/2020 2:45:49 PM

Modified: 12/11/2020 2:45:37 PM

On Nov. 12 FirstLight and broker Energy New England sent out a paid press release with a Twitter link on Businesswire: “21 New England Municipal Electric Utilities Commit to Historic Purchase of Clean Power From FirstLight Through ENE.” Formatted like news, it hyped agreements — overwhelmingly to eastern Massachusetts towns, for future electricity exports. It boasted big complex numbers, long-term megawatts and clean, renewable hydropower sales to towns 100 miles from the source.

Factually, if all that hyped power was directed to the coastal town of Hingham (pop. circa 23,000) on that list, all 20 others, including tiny outliers in Vermont and Rhode Island, would be left in the dark.

FirstLight never mentioned it hadn’t secured a long-term license for diverting flows from the public’s Connecticut River to produce future electricity. That remains many months in the future. On Nov. 12 it hadn’t even submitted a final application to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) requesting the privilege. The AP picked up that release, though it flagged it as paid content. It spiraled all over the web looking like reporting.

What further blurred the perception line between the public press and private interests was state Rep. Tom Golden, chair of the Commonwealth’s Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy. He’s quoted in that paid release touting FirstLight’s export deal as representing the “significant expansion of their procurement of renewable and carbon-free electricity, produced right here in Massachusetts.” This was odd corporate coziness amidst a FERC relicensing. Was a fix in?

This Dec. 5, a headline under “Staff Report” ran in the Recorder: “Public power entities in three states commit to clean energy purchase from FirstLight.” As reporting, it appeared much like a recycling of that paid press release — but now with quotes from FirstLight’s website.

For federal and state agencies working within the FERC licensing process these last eight years on flows to restore a river massively exploited by Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain facilities for half a century, that deal was a slap in the face. Over 18 months ago FirstLight exited settlement negotiations with those agencies over flows — yet here was FirstLight cutting eastern Massachusetts deals for over 40% of the generating capacity of their river-gorging diversions.

It echoed a grim 1970s plan to plunder more of the river’s aquatic life. The Metropolitan District Commission and NU-WMECO planned to use the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage project as a spigot to supplement over consumption of local water supplies and freshwater tables in eastern Massachusetts towns — even as their municipal systems were leaking like sieves. Billions of gallons the Connecticut’s flow would be sucked into NMPS’s giant, fish-killing apparatus and piped east to the Quabbin Reservoir, then to metro Boston.

But the Conservation Law Foundation’s Alexandra Dawson, Massachusetts Audubon’s Robie Hubley and conservationist Terry Blunt organized public meetings and spoke to reporters. They thwarted that scheme — in work that ultimately morphed into the MA Interbasin Transfer Act of 1983. It prevents exporting flows out of one river basin to service distant towns in another — until overuse, leaks and local supply measures are all implemented. It lets rivers live.

FirstLight is the latest exploiter of New England’s river here. Since 2001 that’s included NU-WMECO, Northeast Generation Services, Energy Capital Partners, GDF-Suez, Engie, PSP Investments, and FirstLight. Rep. Golden didn’t mention FirstLight is a Canadian-owned subsidiary of venture capital giant PSP Investments, who arrived four years ago to buy up the grimmest, ecosystem crippling machinery on the entire 410-mile river. Their investment scheme now twists 350 miles south before heading back to Canada. In December 2018 they pulled their facilities from commonwealth rolls and registered them as Delaware LLC tax shelters.

FirstLight’s deals occurred while the U.S. Fish & Wildlife, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Massachusetts Fish & Wildlife were all kept in the dark. Today they remain muzzled from accessing the media about relicensing specifics —due to confidentiality agreements FirstLight demanded years back to allow participation in now long-stalled settlement talks. FirstLight’s facilities are key factors in spawning failure for the federally endangered shortnose sturgeon. Its failing river banks, just 100 yards from the power canal, continue eroding into critical river habitat today.

FirstLight Vice President Thomas Kaslow testified in Washington to continue banning media access to the meetings of NEPOOL — the monopoly-dominated New England Power Producers association that steers ISO — New England. They’re no friend of a free press. New Englanders are due facts about how FirstLight’s diversions and massive fish-devouring pumped storage machine stunt and obliterate the life of a four-state ecosystem and how they’ll end that year-round carnage before any FERC licenses get issued.

Karl Meyer, a Greenfield resident, has served on the Fish and Aquatics Studies Team in the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s relicensing process for river facilities here since 2012. He is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.



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Newsrust: The Recorder - My Turn: The selling of New England’s river
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