In The People's Blog

On May 2, I joined Representatives Natalie Blais, Daniel Carey, Mindy Domb, Lindsay Sabadosa, and Aaron Saunders to submit a joint public comment to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) regarding the relicensing of FirstLight Power’s Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project. 

Our public comment can be read here. It also follows. 

The public comment period on FirstLight’s Amended Final License Application for FERC goes through May 22, 2024. FERC has an instruction page on how to submit a comment on a particular project here: If you wish to send in a comment, you will need to include the docket numbers for each of FirstLight’s facilities. These are: Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project (P-2485-071) and Turners Falls Dam (P-1889-085). 

Additionally, on May 29, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protections (MassDEP) will be holding two virtual hearings on FirstLight Power’s application for a 401 Water Quality Certification. For more information and to register, click here


May 1, 2024

Debbie-Anne A. Reese, Acting Secretary

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

888 First Street, NE

Washington, DC 20426


Dear Secretary Reese, 

We write as state legislators who represent cities and towns along the Connecticut River and its tributaries which are affected by the relicensing of FirstLight Power’s (FirstLight) Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project (FERC No. 1889) and Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project (FERC No. 2485).

We offer the following comments on the Amended Final License Application submitted by FirstLight and the Flows and Fish Passage and Recreation Settlement Agreements, and we respectfully request the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC’s) consideration on behalf of the constituents and communities we represent. 

The Connecticut River is a centerpiece of life in western Massachusetts and has national status as the nation’s only Blueway as well as an American Heritage River. All communities adjacent to and downstream of FirstLight’s operations are affected by its activities in some measure. Communities upstream are also affected by these projects’ impact on migratory fish and other species.

We understand that FirstLight has a positive economic impact on the western Massachusetts economy — with regard to taxes paid and jobs created. We also recognize that the Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain projects provide benefits to the New England electrical grid, and that they have the potential to be useful resources in the transition to a decarbonized energy system. However, we must be mindful of escalating environmental impact. If the company is allowed to increase the size of its upper reservoir, as it has proposed in the Amended Final License Application and also in the Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement, this will result in longer hours of pumping and generation with potential increases in level and flow fluctuations in the Turners Falls impoundment. This potential greater use and greater impact make the following that much more important. 

We wish to emphasize that, ultimately, the company profits from the use of a public resource — the Connecticut River — which is important in many ways beyond the production of energy. We appreciate FERC’s commitment to equal consideration of both sides of this equation.

We recognize and support FERC’s obligation to provide equal consideration to (a) power and development benefits and (b) environmental values, including energy conservation, fish and wildlife resources (spawning grounds and habitat), visual resources, cultural resources, recreational opportunities, and other aspects of environmental quality.

FERC has the opportunity and authority to support these projects’ contribution to energy generation, a transition to a decarbonized energy system, and local development benefits, while also significantly improving aquatic habitat; protecting aquatic species; enacting safe, effective, and timely fish passage for migratory fish; and reducing the erosive loss of valuable riverbank property. Additionally, FERC has the authority to restore and protect the designated uses of swimming and boating; to transform the design, operation, and impact of the Northfield Mountain project; and to relieve the possible burden on future generations by establishing a decommissioning fund.

With this in mind, the following is an enumeration of concerns and recommendations:

Impact on Indigenous Communities

We are aware that for millennia the people of numerous Indigenous Nations lived and thrived along the banks of the Connecticut River. We are also aware that there are a number of Indigenous stakeholders participating in this process. 

Indigenous Communities Recommendation

We urge FERC to heed the requests of the Indigenous stakeholders which could include but not be limited to protection of historic and cultural areas of significance for Indigenous nations. 

Financial Impact on Communities

In terms of development benefits, the company emphasizes its payment of taxes to the towns, as well as the jobs it provides. One concern we have with the proposed new license is that the assessed value of the Turners Falls project will diminish, thus reducing the property taxes paid to communities like Montague, which is an environmental justice community. 

Financial Impact Recommendation

We ask that these municipalities not be financially penalized as a result of ecologically-sound practices.

Length of the License

As we reflect on the anticipated and unanticipated impacts of a rapidly changing climate, we know that we cannot predict the specific technological advances or climate-driven solutions that 2070 will both offer and demand. As such, we have concerns about granting FirstLight a 50-year license. Our understanding is that there are conflicting beliefs and research regarding the storage and capacity provided by FirstLight. This leads us to believe that our constituents and the Commonwealth would be ill-served by locking in five decades of operation.

License Term Recommendation

We recommend that the new license term be a maximum of 30 years. The Connecticut River has already experienced prolonged stress due to outdated requirements of the previous license. In addition, as we’ve seen through this twelve-year relicensing process, the license term granted by FERC actually extends beyond what is stipulated. Granting a 50-year license could amount to a license to operate for 60+ years. It is imperative that a shorter license be granted so that we have the ability to seize opportunities to address pressing issues, implement innovations, and alter the operation of FirstLight in ways that seek to balance myriad environmental and energy concerns. 

Minimum Flows Below the Turners Falls Dam

Proposals in the Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement reflect the hard work of federal and state agencies, towns, and nonprofits, as well as FirstLight. They promise improvements. In particular, peaking will diminish at the Turners Falls project and minimum flows during the fish passage season will be much higher.

However, the flows below the dam during the summer and fall remain inadequate. Considering that the summer minimum flows from the upstream Vernon Dam (P-1904) will be 1,400 cubic feet per second (cfs), the minimum flow at Turners Falls should account for this flow, plus the additional flow of the Ashuelot River in New Hampshire and the Millers River, which flow into the Connecticut River above the Turners Falls Dam. Given these inputs, it has been calculated that the flow at the dam equaled or exceeded 1,814 cfs 99% of the time. Thus, FirstLight’s proposed minimum flow rate below the dam from July 1 to November 15 of 500 cfs is woefully insufficient to provide adequate habitat for fish species and macroinvertebrates. It is also too low to support recreational activities.

Flows below Turners Falls Dam Recommendation

We recommend a minimum flow below the Turners Falls Dam of 1,400 cfs from July 1 to November 15. We ask that a minimum flow be mandated that enables boating and recreation, and protects the habitats of macroinvertebrates and fish. As noted above, we also ask that municipalities receiving revenue tied to flows not be financially penalized as a result of ecologically-sound practices.

Turners Falls Impoundment Water Level Management and Erosion

Farmers, landowners, and recreational users have been watching the riverbanks collapse into the Turners Falls impoundment ever since the beginning of operations at the Northfield Mountain Project in 1972, and FERC has a long history of enforcement on this issue. We have heard concerns stating that the proposed operating ranges in the Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement will exacerbate the existing erosion along the banks of the Turners Falls Impoundment which will affect the Connecticut River ecosystem. The new license should set conditions that reduce soil loss, improve riparian habitat on the banks of the river, and protect archaeological resources. The license should continue to require FirstLight to monitor and mitigate bank erosion. Monitoring erosion for the entire term of the license is not only essential to the wellbeing of the river and its users during the term of the license, but will also provide essential data on the impact of FirstLight’s operations on erosion. 

Erosion Recommendation

We recommend that FERC require FirstLight to implement a streambank monitoring plan which includes yearly monitoring and measuring of erosion impacts on water quality, recreation, and land subsidence, as well as a Full River Reconnaissance study performed every three years, both for the duration of the license.

Fish Passage and Barrier Net 

We are pleased by the plans in the Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement to protect migratory fish species through the installation of a barrier net, plunge pool below the dam, along with other downstream improvements, and an upstream fishlift. However, we have a few concerns.


The timelines of the completion of the installation of the fishlift after nine years and the barrier net after seven years is too lengthy and must be shortened. This urgent issue has been a top priority for environmental advocacy groups for decades and we respectfully request that FERC alter this timeline to protect these migratory fish. 

Fish Passage Timeline Recommendation

We recommend that the fish net and the fishlift be fully installed and operational by year two and year five of the new license, respectively. 

Barrier Net Monitoring

According to environmental experts in western Massachusetts, the Adaptive Management Measures in the Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement do very little to effectively protect juvenile shad and shad eggs.

Barrier Net Monitoring Recommendation 

If the new license requires the implementation of a barrier net, then the license must also enforce and monitor that the net is working efficiently and effectively for the duration of the license. We recommend that FERC require FirstLight to perform inspections and tests on the barrier net during the season it is installed to ensure its effectiveness throughout the whole season. If it is not performing as designed, an Adaptive Management Measure must be in place to ensure that FirstLight improves the functioning of the barrier net and therefore the survival rate of fish species.

Reduced State and Federal Agency Authority

Finally, we are very concerned by language in the Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement that states that regulatory agencies will not exercise regulatory authority regarding fish passage for the first 25 years of the license. “MDFW [Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife], NMFS [National Marine Fisheries Service] , and USFWS [U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service] have agreed…not to exercise any reserved or other regulatory authority regarding downstream passage to request or require any AMMs other than those listed in the table below for the first 25 years of the license.” (p. A-17) 

Agency Authority Recommendation

We urge FERC to ensure that the state and federal agencies retain all freedom necessary to require any measure to ensure the protection of species and river health, if it is found that FirstLight’s operations harm the ecosystem. 


FERC considers the relicensing of FirstLight at a time when we can be almost certain that energy generation, storage, and infrastructure will drastically change for decades to come. 

Decommissioning Fund Recommendation

We request that FERC explore the requirement of a decommissioning fund which would ensure that the public is not solely responsible for the hydropower facility should it become uneconomical for the company or obsolete. FERC has already recognized its authority to require decommissioning funds. 

Flood Control Measures

During the summer of 2023, the western Massachusetts region experienced devastating flooding from storms in July that led to the loss of close to 3,000 acres of crops on over 100 farms in the region, including those in Deerfield, Hadley, Hatfield, Northampton, and Sunderland. This resulted in millions of dollars of damages. In conversations with FirstLight in the immediate aftermath of the storms, FirstLight indicated that there was nothing its operations could do to prevent the catastrophic flooding. In a subsequent meeting with regional farmers held in April 2024, FirstLight underscored this position.

Flood Control Measures Recommendation

Mindful of the increasing risk of climate change-related disasters, we ask that FERC review the relationship between Turners Falls and Northfield Mountain projects, and the Wilder Dam (P-1892-030), Bellows Falls Dam (P-1855-050), and Vernon Dam (P-1904-078) projects along the Connecticut River in Vermont and New Hampshire, all of which are being relicensed concurrently. We ask that FERC focus on possible unified efforts between facilities to mitigate downstream flood damage. 

Public Data

Over the terms of the next license, there will be considerable changes in the conditions and operations of these projects —changes that will fall well outside the conditions that were studied in preparation for the license. It is important that the impact on the environment be well-monitored and understood. Changing conditions also include ongoing climate change; the environmental improvements put in place by this license; and changing electric grids, policies, and markets.

Additionally, there is a need for transparent data of the flows released from and pumped by the hydropower facilities to inform potential boaters and other river users. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) gauges are too far away from the facilities, and affected by multiple other inputs, and are not good predictors of sudden unexpected changes in flow and level.

We welcome the proposal in the Flows and Fish Passage Settlement Agreement for year-round hourly information on flows out of Turners Falls dam and request additional, publicly-available data and analyses, including:

  1. Real-time data on the flows released from the hydropower facilities, or pumping. 
  2. Regular monitoring and publicly available data of macroinvertebrate populations in the Turners Falls bypass reach, downstream of Cabot station, and in the Turners Falls impoundment, as macroinvertebrates provide one of the best ways to assess stream ecosystem quality.
  3. Monitoring of, and public data on, populations and passage through the Turners Falls impoundment and its shore banks of non-fish species that provide important ecosystem services, including native mussels and riparian species.
  4. Annual reports on how operations are changing due to energy markets and policy, and due to FirstLight’s flow and passage improvements; and the benefit to and impact on the environment and recreation. We also request that these annual reports be sent to State and Federal officials. 


FirstLight has operated under a temporary license since 2018, delaying its implementation of critical and overdue environmental measures possible with this relicensing. 

We appreciate the significant work by federal and state agencies on this complex and lengthy licensing proceeding. We look forward to being kept apprised of FERC’s progress in ensuring that this pending license strikes a far better deal for the river and the public than the current operating requirements have done for the last 50+ years.

The region’s future depends on it.

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