401 WQC for the FirstLight Hydroelectric Re-Licensing Project

Information and updates on MassDEP's 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC) for FirstLight's Connecticut River hydroelectric facilities in Turners Falls and Montague and the pumped storage facility in Northfield, Massachusetts.

FirstLight Power (FirstLight) has filed an application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to relicense the Connecticut River hydroelectric facilities in Turners Falls and Montague and the pumped storage facility in Northfield under the Federal Power Act, 16 U.S.C. § 797(e). As a part of the federal relicense application filed with FERC, FirstLight must also apply for a 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC) from the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP).

Updates for WQC Process

MassDEP will periodically provide substantive updates in this section.

  • This webpage was updated on April 29, 2024 to reflect that MassDEP has opened the official public comment period. The "Public Involvement in 401 WQC Process" section has an updated timeline document, an updated FAQ document, the new public hearing notice, and information on the public comment period.

Updates for FERC Relicensing Process

More information about the FERC relicensing process for the above FirstLight facilities can be found here: FERC Online - Home Page or https://ferconline.ferc.gov/FERCOnline.aspx

Website last updated or checked for necessary updates on May 17, 2024.

Table of Contents

Aerial view of the Turners Falls area with key features of the FirstLight relicensing project highlighted

Aerial view of the Turners Falls area with key features of the FirstLight relicensing project highlighted

FirstLight 401 Water Quality Certification Application

MassDEP will have until April 22, 2025 to issue a WQC to FirstLight. In the WQC process, MassDEP is obligated to determine whether there is reasonable assurance that the proposed relicensed operations will be conducted in a manner which will not violate Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards at 314 CMR 4.00. MassDEP may establish requirements, known as conditions, in the WQC, which FERC then generally incorporates into the FERC relicense.

Below are links to the application and related documents.

Additional Resources

Public Involvement in 401 WQC Process

[Note: Stakeholder engagement activities conducted by FERC or FirstLight associated with FERC’s federal relicensing process have been ongoing for several years – see links at the bottom of this page to FERC and FirstLight websites for more detailed information.]

In recognition of the significance and duration of a renewed license for these hydroelectric power facilities there are three scheduled opportunities for public involvement in the WQC process.

  1. Public Comment Period and Public Hearings on FirstLight WQC Application - OPEN NOW
    1. An early opportunity for public involvement in the state’s WQC process occurs shortly after FirstLight filed its WQC application with MassDEP on April 22, 2024. MassDEP has opened an official public comment period for written comments and will hold two virtual Public Hearings (day and evening) for oral comments. Due to heightened public interest in this project, MassDEP has extended the comment period beyond the 21 days typically offered for WQC applications to 35 days.
      1. Formal written public comments will be accepted until 5:00PM on June 3, 2024. Written comments may be sent electronically via email to dep.hydro@mass.gov which must include "FirstLight 401 WQC" in the subject line in order to be considered by MassDEP. Do not use the contact form on this webpage to submit comments on the WQC application during this comment period that lasts until June 3, 2024. In lieu of electronic submittal, paper comments may be mailed to:

        MassDEP - BWR
        Attn: FirstLight 401WQC
        100 Cambridge Street, Suite 900
        Boston, MA 02114

        Public Notice: English | Other Languages

      2. MassDEP will conduct two virtual public hearings to hear oral comments regarding the WQC application on May 29, 2024 at 1:30PM and 7:00PM. Please register in advance by clicking the date and time of the hearing you would like to attend: May 29, 2024 at 1:30PM and May 29, 2024 at 7:00PM
  2. Public Information Session
    1. As the second opportunity for public participation, MassDEP will hold a public information session approximately six months into our review of the WQC application. The public information session will be an opportunity for FirstLight and MassDEP to present preliminary information about the WQC, engage in dialogue, and answer questions from the public. This contrasts with official public hearing protocol (discussed above), where MassDEP accepts oral comments but does not engage with or respond to questions from the public.
  3. Public Comment and Public Hearing on MassDEP DRAFT WQC
    1. The third opportunity for public participation will be an official public hearing and public comment period on a DRAFT WQC that MassDEP will post on its website approximately nine months after the WQC application is filed. Public notice will be provided in the same manner as the first official public hearings and comment period (discussed above).

Formats for Public Participation

All public hearings will be held online (virtually) for ease of participation. For the public information session, MassDEP intends to allow participants to choose either virtual or in-person attendance (i.e., a hybrid session). All hearings and public information sessions will be recorded, and the recording will be made available on MassDEP’s website.

The Department looks forward to hearing about specific issues of concern during the upcoming public hearings, comment periods, and public information session. 

  • [Note that failure to submit written comments on the DRAFT WQC before the end of the public comment period may result in the waiver of any right to an adjudicatory hearing unless the claim is based on new substantive issues arising from material changes to the scope or impact of the activity and not apparent at the time of public notice.]

Additional Resources

The 401 WQC Process

Below are links to the regulations governing the Massachusetts 401 WQC process and the applicable forms.

Additional Resources

About FirstLight Power

Below are links to information about FirstLight Power and their facilities in Massachusetts. Information on these pages include details about hydropower generation and recreational opportunities around the facilities.

In addition, there is a link to public documents that were developed during the relicensing process.  As described on that page:

FirstLight is licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) to operate the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project (FERC No. 1889) and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project (FERC No. 2485). Both Projects utilize water from the Connecticut River to generate hydroelectric power. The current FERC licenses for both Projects expired on April 30, 2018. FirstLight is currently operating on annual licenses under the terms of the previous license. Every 40-50 years, Licensees are required to relicense their hydroelectric facilities with FERC. FirstLight filed its Amended License Application with FERC on December 4, 2020.

These pages are published by FirstLight Power.

Additional Resources

About the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)

The Commission's hydropower responsibilities include:

  • the issuance of preliminary permits;
  • determinations regarding qualifying conduit facilities;
  • the issuance of licenses for the construction and operation of new projects;
  • the issuance of relicenses for existing projects;
  • the investigation and assessment of headwater benefits; and
  • the oversight of all ongoing project operations, including dam safety and security inspections, public safety, and environmental monitoring.

While the Commission’s responsibility under the Federal Power Act is to strike an appropriate balance among the many competing developmental and non-developmental (including environmental) interests, several other statutes affect hydropower regulation. These include, but are not limited to, NEPA, the Clean Water Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Fish and Wildlife Coordination Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act.


FERC eLibrary

FERC maintains an eLibrary where documents submitted related to the FirstLight relicensing proposal may be found.

LINK to the FERC eLibray:  https://elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/search

Use this link for a General Search of all projects (not just the Turners Falls Relicensing application) related to FirstLight by typing "FirstLight" into the keyword search box.

Specific links to the collection of FirstLight submittals for the Turners Falls project (Docket # P-1889-092) in the eLibrary, including Agreements-in-Principle, may be found below.

Additional Resources

Contact   for 401 WQC for the FirstLight Hydroelectric Re-Licensing Project

Online

Questions and General Comments (Not for Official Public Comments on the WQC Application) Contact Us: FirstLight 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC)  

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