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Connecticut River Dam Owners Offer Key Change In Final Relicensing Plans

Great River Hydro

A final plan is out to relicense three major hydropower dams on the Connecticut River between New Hampshire and Vermont – a big milestone in a years-long federal process.

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Portsmouth-based Great River Hydro is seeking new, 40-year licenses for its Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon dams, which together provide about 108 megawatts of power from the river between West Lebanon and the Massachusetts border.

The main, major change the company’s plan outlines is a new way of operating the dams to keep river levels from fluctuating as much as they have in the past.

“Proposed operation … focuses on creating more stable impoundment water surface elevations by reducing the average frequency, average duration, and average range of impoundment fluctuation,” the plan states.

They say they’ve balanced this change with keeping the flexibility needed to turn on and generate power when the regional grid needs it on short notice – a key function of hydro dams.

Nonprofits like the Connecticut River Conservancy believe too much fluctuation in the stretches of river above the dams has caused shoreline erosion, and they say this change is a big victory.

But they have other concerns. For one thing, CRC executive director Andrew Fisk told reporters Wednesday that the relicensing plan doesn't improve recreational access on the river as much as advocates sought in the years of planning and study that led up to this.

“Our expectation is not that we just get what was provided in the 1960s and some minor tweaks here,” he said during a press conference Wednesday. 

His group is even more critical about re-licensing plans for two nearby dams – Turner Falls and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station – owned by Massachusetts-based FirstLight.

Fisk hopes public input will help strengthen the licenses for all five dams as the facilities undergo required state and federal environmental assessments over the next year.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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