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Hydroelectric operator on the Connecticut River picks up key agreement in license renewal effort

Inside the Northfield Mountain pumped storage hydroelectric station.
Jesse Costa
Inside the Northfield Mountain pumped storage hydroelectric station.

The operator of hydropower generating equipment on the Connecticut River in Franklin County has reached a key agreement in its bid to receive a license renewal from federal officials.

The facilities include the Northfield Mountain pump station and two dams in Turners Falls.

The deal is between First Light Power and several other parties. The company agreed to spend $150 million to help improve fish passage in the river, while also committing to improving water flow.

One group involved in the talks, but not signing on to the final document is the Connecticut River Conservancy. The organization's Massachusetts River Steward, Kelsey Wentling, said one issue is how long First Light is looking to renew its license for.

"All the parties within this agreement agreed to a 50 year license term which is quite a long time especially in the context of a really rapidly changing climate,” she said.

Wentling said another issue is the timeframe to make the improvements, with some elements taking many years longer than she felt necessary, not to mention concerns about adequate flow in some parts of the Connecticut River. She did say the deal does improve some things, but in the end the group made the “difficult” decision not to join.

Several environmental advocacy groups signed on to the deal, along with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Justin Trudell, First Light’s chief operating officer, said the agreement is a big step forward in the company’s bid to gain renewal from the Federal Energy Regulator Commission. He said the deal will not only ensure a clean energy source for New England, but will also enhance the river.

"Things are protected like aquatic habitat, we've got improvements for fish passage, endangered species protections and mitigation, so a real enhancement to the Connecticut River as it flows through Massachusetts" Trudell said.

There are still more regulatory steps at the federal and state level before the renewal could be granted. Trudell said he is hopeful that could happen sometime next year.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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