Guest Columnist William Ryan: Corporate Greenwashing on the Connecticut River

Greenwashing is when an environmentally destructive company tries to appear sustainable in the media. Despite self-proclaimed concerns a...



Greenwashing is when an environmentally destructive company tries to appear sustainable in the media. Despite self-proclaimed concerns about the environment and climate change, greenwashed companies rely on a capitalist economic system that is at the root of the climate crisis.

FirstLight Power Resources can fit the bill of a contradictory and environmentally whitewashed company. FirstLight operates three hydroelectric generating stations on the Connecticut River. All three are in the final stages of a license renewal process overseen by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

Hydroelectricity is commonly referred to as clean energy. However, where there is a profit motive, there are often negative environmental and societal impacts. The Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station, FirstLight’s largest and most lucrative facility to renew, provides a few examples.

FirstLight media called the facility a contributor to “the clean energy economy” and “a force in the fight against climate change”.

These descriptions are greenwashed misnomers. Northfield Mountain was once one of Franklin County’s natural wonders, sitting 1,200 feet above New England’s longest river. Beginning in 1968, excavation, underground drilling and explosive fracturing permanently altered its geological integrity.

Four massive turbines were embedded in the heart of the mountain. These turbines are now powered by “surplus energy” purchased from the New England power grid, mostly generated by natural gas. Underground intake pipes the size of a school bus reach the Connecticut River and suck in water at a rate of 15,000 cubic feet per second when electricity demand and prices are low, sometimes pulling the river reverse. This rip current kills millions of juvenile migrating fish every year and causes severe fluctuations in water levels.

The plundered water is then stored atop the Commodified Mountain in a 300-acre man-made reservoir and returned 800 feet up the intake pipes when energy prices are high. The license renewal applications detail how this form of power generation and sale earned FirstLight more than $150 million in 2019. Put bluntly, by a senior WBUR reporter, “the system is a generator of money”.

Currently, FirstLight is owned by the Canadian Public Sector Retirement Investment Fund (PSP), one of Canada’s largest financial asset managers. Upon purchasing FirstLight’s facilities in 2016, Guthrie Stewart, then Senior Vice President and Global Head of Private Investments, said, “The assets purchased are a perfect match for [PSP’s] long-term investment horizon…”

In the eyes of capitalist owners, a living river is just another investment opportunity. Generating returns for shareholders, not environmental conservation, must be the prerogative of FirstLight’s facilities, otherwise they would not be a worthwhile investment for the astute PSP.

Companies of such financial magnitude are difficult for municipalities in western Massachusetts to hold accountable. One way to do this is to collect taxes. Municipal assessors determine the assessed value of the FirstLight property. Tax revenues can then be reinvested in municipal infrastructure, public education and health care initiatives.

As Montague’s highest-paying taxpayer, FirstLight is critical to the city budget to collect adequate tax payments from them. Yet, from 2014 to 2018, FirstLight rejected city assessments of its facilities in a formal lawsuit, saying their future revenues were miscalculated.

FirstLight twisted Montague’s arm through six years of legal fees until taxpayers paid the hydroelectric company a $790,000 settlement in 2019. Tax payment stinginess by a multi-million company dollars unnecessarily increases the burden on citizens. This is an example of strong weaponry from a company that prioritizes a sacrosanct pursuit of profit and power, over the well-being of its community.

“The benefits of this project have far exceeded anything that has been achieved by Northfield in recent years,” a Northfield resident said in a recent editorial in the Greenfield Recorder. In recent weeks, concerns like this have been echoed by dozens of citizens who have filed notices with FERC opposing FirstLight’s new Northfield Mountain license.

Irresponsible corporate domination, combined with the ruthless depletion of natural resources, are symptoms of capitalism fueling the climate crisis. In “Sharing the Wealth of the Commons”, Peter Barnes states: “Much of what is called economic growth today is a form of cannibalization in which the market diminishes the commons that sustain it in the end. account “.

This is a highly destructive contradiction within capitalism that Connecticut River Valley citizens are watching unfold in real time. The economic gain for the few has come at the cost of an ancient mountain of granite, followed by 50 years of licensed mining that damages river ecology and bolsters the natural gas economy. With perseverance, it is always possible to avoid license renewals.

William Ryan studied finance, economics, and environmental science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.



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Newsrust - US Top News: Guest Columnist William Ryan: Corporate Greenwashing on the Connecticut River
Guest Columnist William Ryan: Corporate Greenwashing on the Connecticut River
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