On February 11, 2023, Commonwealth Magazine published an opinion piece by Alicia Barton, CEO of FirstLight Power, the company that owns the Turner’s Falls dam and Northfield Pumping Station – Clean energy generators are already proving their worth – CommonWealth Magazine. In her piece, Barton refers to the power generated and stored by the FirstLight facilities as “clean hydropower and pumped storage” and claims that power from these facilities “came to the rescue” this past Christmas Eve by preventing rolling electricity blackouts.
In a response piece written by investigative journalist Karl Meyer, published in the same journal on March 9th, Meyer gives evidence that refutes Barton’s claims, providing disturbing facts about the profound damage wreaked by the FirstLight facilities on the Connecticut River ecosystem, and revealing the profits earned by FirstLight at the expense of the environment –The dirty truth of Northfield Mountain’s ‘clean’ energy – CommonWealth Magazine. The Turner’s Falls dam and Northfield Pumping Station are clearly not green energy operations.
One of the most worrisome points made by Meyer is that FirstLight is on a mission to significantly increase the Northfield pumping operations, which would dramatically worsen the damage this facility already does to Barton’s Cove. He highlights that Alicia Barton advocates for Massachusetts to tap its “underutilized storage” to meet “growing reliability needs” and that she says the Northfield facility could be ramped up to pump water from Barton’s Cove eight hours per day every day of the year.
It should be noted that the climate legislation signed by Governor Baker last summer includes a provision that requires the state to study the benefits of the type of energy storage that is only provided by the Northfield Pumping Station and one other facility in all of Massachusetts. This legislation also requires the state to sign long-term contracts to procure this type of storage if the study comes back positive. See Session Law – Acts of 2022 Chapter 179 (malegislature.gov), Section 80.
What this all adds up to is that Massachusetts ratepayers may soon be paying FirstLight Power to triple the damage it does to Barton’s Cove and the Connecticut River ecosystem, including tripling the number of fish already dying in FirstLight’s tunnels and turbines. Why should a private company be licensed to destroy our beautiful river for profit in this way, at the expense of Massachusetts electricity ratepayers?
Please make your voices heard to stop FirstLight! You can submit comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the relicensing of FirstLight’s facilities. Instructions for doing so are here – Watchdogging Hydropower – Connecticut River Conservancy (ctriver.org). You can also sign up for updates from MA DEP to participate in public sessions on FirstLight’s relicensing here – 401 WQC for the FirstLight Hydroelectric Re-Licensing Project | Mass.gov. Please also help by spreading the word!
If you want to learn more about the FirstLight facilities and the FERC relicensing process, please look at materials on the CT River Conservancy website, referenced above, and also on the websites of Greening Greenfield – https://greeninggreenfield.com – and Connecticut River Defenders – https://ctriverdefenders.org.
Lundy Bancroft grew up in Amherst and is a long-time Western Mass climate and labor activist.