Guest Columnist: FirstLight Power's lousy affair for the public

$ 130 million is a big number – until it isn’t. FirstLight Power, owner of hydroelectric facilities in Massachusetts and Connecticut...



$ 130 million is a big number – until it isn’t.

FirstLight Power, owner of hydroelectric facilities in Massachusetts and Connecticut, is seeking new federal licenses to operate its two facilities in Massachusetts, the Northfield Mountain pumped storage project and the Turners Falls hydroelectric project. Once issued, the company is granted an additional 40 to 50 years to generate electricity for the New England grid.

The Connecticut River Conservancy and many other stakeholders want to ensure that in exchange for this license, the public gets a good deal for the use of their river. And right now, the FirstLight Power deal is lousy.

FirstLight Power says they will invest more than $ 130 million in these projects to improve the health of rivers and public facilities. Let’s put this in some context. The company bought these facilities in 2016 for $ 1.2 billion in 2016 and in a recent filing it reported revenue of $ 195 million in 2019.

FirstLight says they’re investing between $ 27 million and $ 45 million (they have different numbers depending on where you’re looking) in improving fish passage. What they don’t say is how much money they saved while ignoring the improvements needed for the decades-long failure of the current fish ladder at Turners Falls and the lack of barriers. at Northfield Mountain. If FirstLight Power were serious about restoring migratory fish, they would have acted years ago.

What else does the public get for this money? Let’s take a closer look at the company’s $ 5.6 million in recreation improvements. They note that $ 1.2 million of that total is intended to move a wharf so they can install a fish barrier net at the entrance to Northfield Mountain. Truly? Move a dock? And shouldn’t they have put that barrier 50 years ago? Another look at $ 1.6 million of the $ 5.6 million shows us that they believe they need just as much to improve Poplar Street’s insanely poor access facilities in Montague. Considering this has been a haphazard and dangerous way to access the river for decades, why are they getting props for a grossly overrated – and vague – proposal to solve a problem of their own making?

FirstLight Power says it is investing $ 5 million in dredging the Northfield Mountain upper reservoir to remove sediment accumulated when pumping the Connecticut River upstream. They claim it is a public good, which is beyond us.

The simplest way to look at their whole proposition is “we want more production capacity and in return we will fix the problems on our own.” Where are the additional benefits for the public?

Let’s not forget that FirstLight Power has worked hard to lower taxes by bringing in expensive lawyers for strong cities. For example, in Montague, after the city obtained a state decision that the proposed valuation was fair, FirstLight Power’s team of lawyers threatened another appeal, forcing the city to take control in view of the costs of litigation. The final result ? Former FirstLight CEO John Shue has negotiated the return of $ 790,000 to their coffers and a lump sum valuation through 2022.

Let’s also look at the revenue side of the ledger to assess that $ 130 million. When a number of these projects are implemented, they will likely qualify for green certification, which means increased income. When we pointed this out to them and suggested what we thought these improvements would bring them, we never got a response. It’s still a litany of costs with no information on what they stand to gain. And pending federal investments in infrastructure appear to give hydropower producers like FirstLight Power a buffet of public subsidies to offset the costs of equipment and facility upgrades.

Last but not least, they want to change the state’s energy policy to favor pumped hydroelectricity. The current state policy supports advanced battery storage versus pumped storage because advanced batteries can be located at key locations on the network and respond in seconds, not minutes or hours. FirstLight argues that they should be protected from the free market and have a 10 to 20 year contract price for Northfield Mountain power. That would make them, you guessed it, more money. In an attempt to secure that deal, they invested $ 390,000 in Beacon Hill lobbyists in 2019 and 2020.

We’re not against FirstLight Power making a reasonable return on their investment, but they should only get it after correcting the negative impacts they’ve been doing for decades and getting a better deal with the public. It means being transparent and telling us the whole story of their income and expenses.

You can learn to talk to www.cdriver.org/hydroelectricity or PowerOfWater.fish

Andrew Fisk, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Connecticut River Conservancy, formerly the Connecticut River Watershed Council in Greenfield.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Guest Columnist: FirstLight Power's lousy affair for the public
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