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). FirstLight is required to file its WQC application with MassDEP within 60 days of FERC issuing a Ready for Environmental Analysis (REA) notice. FERC’s REA notice is expected to be issued in fall 2023, and FirstLight is expected to file its WQC application within 30 to 60 days after that.

MassDEP will have one year from when FirstLight files its WQC application to issue a WQC. 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.

Updates for WQC Process

There are no updates at this time. MassDEP will periodically provide updates in this section.

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 revised on September 15, 2023.

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 in 401 Water Quality Certification 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 will be three scheduled opportunities for public involvement in the WQC process.

Public Comment and Public Hearing on FirstLight WQC Application

An early opportunity for public involvement in the state’s WQC process will occur shortly after FirstLight files its WQC application with MassDEP. FirstLight is expected to file that application in fall 2023, as noted above. Within weeks after that, MassDEP will open an official public comment period for written comments and hold two virtual Public Hearings (day and evening) for oral comments.

  • Within ten days of the WQC application being filed, there will be public notice of dates for the above hearings and the comment period in a local newspaper, the Massachusetts Environmental Monitor, and this webpage. Due to heightened public interest in this project, MassDEP will extend the comment period beyond the 21 days typically offered for WQC applications to 35 days.

Public Information Session

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.

Public Comment and Public Hearing on MassDEP DRAFT WQC

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.]

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

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