401 WQC for the FirstLight Hydroelectric Re-Licensing Project

Updates on MassDEP's 401 Water Quality Certification for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) for the FirstLight's Connecticut River hydroelectric facilities in Turners Falls and Montague and the pumped storage facility in Northfield, Massachusetts.

FirstLight Power is seeking a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) Relicensing for the Connecticut River hydroelectric facilities in Turners Falls and Montague and the pumped storage facility in Northfield.

Under section 401 of the federal Clean Water Act, any applicant seeking a federal license for an activity that may result in a discharge to navigable waters must first seek a 401 Water Quality Certification from the host state, which in this case will go through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). In reviewing 401 Water Quality Certification applications, MassDEP seeks to ensure the activity will comply with applicable provisions of the Massachusetts Surface Water Quality Standards and other appropriate requirements of state law. Any conditions established by MassDEP in a certification must be incorporated into the federal license. 

STATUS: FERC has not yet issued the "Ready for Environmental Analysis" and FirstLight Power has not yet filed a Water Quality Certification Application for the project. (8/15/2022)  FirstLight Power has indicated to FERC (8/9/2022 Status Update) that they "continue to work on a finite list of remaining issues with the goal of filing a CSA [Comprehensive Settlement Agreement] with FERC by December 31, 2022."  (https://elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/filelist?accession_num=20220809-5118)

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

Public Involvement

MassDEP plans on holding a series of public meetings during the 401 Water Quality Certification application review. FirstLight Power has not yet filed a 401 Water Quality Certification application for the project, so the timelines for MassDEP’s review of the application and dates for the anticipated public meetings have not yet been established. 

The Commonwealth recognizes that the provisions of the final 401 Water Quality Certification will be significant and of lasting importance given the lifetime of a renewed license, which is why MassDEP plans to seek public input on the application.

The timing of the public meetings will be designed to ensure that there is sufficient opportunity for all stakeholders and interested parties to provide information that MassDEP should consider during their review of the application. The meetings will be held online for ease of participation and may also allow for in-person attendance (i.e. a "hybrid" meeting) if appropriate facilities are available. In addition to the public meetings, the public may submit written comments to MassDEP on the 401 Water Quality Certification Application during the public comment period.

The Department looks forward to hearing about specific issues of concern during the upcoming public meetings and public comment period once the formal process begins. 

MassDEP has established this webpage dedicated to the review of this project and will share information throughout the 401 Water Quality Certification process. 

The Department welcomes thoughts you may have to ensure the public process is meaningful and accessible to all.

Email Updates

Sign up to receive email updates on the Water Quality Certification Process for the FirstLight Power Application


Timeline illustrating the 401 Certification application process and possible public hearings/meetings.

Approximate Timeline for FirstLight's 401 Water Quality Certification Application - all time estimates are for illustrative purposes and are subject to revision.

Timeline Assumptions

Note: The start date of this project is not known at this time.

  • The project start date is the next business day after First Light files their 401 Water Quality Certification Application (401 App) with DEP.
  • FirstLight submits the 401 App to DEP within 60 days of FERC issuing the "Ready for Environmental Analysis" (REA).
    As of August 15, 2022 FERC has not issued the REA. (Follow the FERC docket link below to check if the REA has been issued since this page was last updated.)
  • Within 10 days of filing the 401 Application, FirstLight must publish a Public Notice that will specify the timing of the formal public comment window. 
  • The overall timeline for the project is one year; DEP must issue a decision on FL 401 App within twelve months of application being submitted to DEP.

Anticipated Public Forums

(The number and timing of public meetings are subject to change.)

Public Forum One – (Date TBD) Perhaps as soon as 5-10 business days of Public notice of FL 401 permit application:

  • Ensure the public is informed of FL project and the details of the permit application.
  • Ensure the public is informed of the 401 Certification process, including the key milestones and opportunities for public comment.
  • Provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions about the 401WQC process. 
  • Public input depending on timing of the meeting:
    • If this meeting falls within the public comment window, the public will be offered an opportunity to provide formal comment. 
    • If this meeting is held before the public comment window, the public will be offered an opportunity to voice initial thoughts/concerns.

Public Forum Two – (Date TBD) Approximately 2 months after Public Forum One, and within the Public Comment Window:

  • Provide an update (if any) on the FL 401WQC process.
  • Public input depending on timing of the meeting. The primary purpose of Meeting 2 is for MassDEP to LISTEN to the public's input on FirstLight's 401Water Quality Certification application.  This input will be carefully considered as the Department develops the 401WQC. 
    • Intended to fall within the public comment window, the public will be offered an opportunity to provide formal comment on the FL proposal.  
    • If, for some unanticipated reason, this meeting is held outside the public comment window, the public will be offered an opportunity to voice additional thoughts/concerns on the FL proposal

(Note that while Department staff will be available to answer clarifying questions about the 401WQC process, this is the public's opportunity to voice its thoughts about the FirstLight project.)

Public Forum Three – (Date TBD) Approximately Mid-Point in Process:

  • MassDEP plans to post an update, including a concept-level presentation, 2 weeks before meeting.
  • MassDEP will present overview of the progress on 401WQC, along with issues under consideration 
  • Provide an opportunity for facilitated Q/A and discussion
  • Receive any additional public comments on the FL proposal and 401WQC under consideration.

Public Forum Four (OPTIONAL) – (DATE TBD) At or Around Issuance of Final 401WQC

  • MassDEP will present a preview of final 401WQC and any conditions included
  • Provide an opportunity for facilitated Q/A and discussion

The 401 Water Quality Certification Process

Below are links to the regulations governing the Massachusetts 401 Water Quality Certification 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

Phone

Office (Mobile) (781) 898-8740
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