Updates on MassDEP's 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC) 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.
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- This page, 401 WQC for the FirstLight Hydroelectric Re-Licensing Project, is offered by
- Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection
401 WQC for the FirstLight Hydroelectric Re-Licensing Project
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 (WQC) from the host state, which in this case will go through the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MassDEP). In reviewing 401 WQC 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 (REA), and FirstLight Power has not yet filed a 401 WQC application for the project. FERC has delayed the REA notice through May 31, 2023 per their status update response to FirstLight dated January 12, 2023 (https://elibrary.ferc.gov/eLibrary/filelist?accession_num=20230112-3003)
Website last revised on February 17, 2023.
Table of Contents
An early opportunity for public involvement occurs when FirstLight Power submits its 401 Water Quality Certification (WQC) application to MassDEP. The public may submit written comments on the 401 WQC application during the public comment period. Due to heightened public interest in this project, MassDEP will extend the comment period beyond the 21-days typically offered for 401 WQC applications. The public comment period will be specified in the Notice of Filing Application for a 401 WQC. FirstLight Power has not yet filed a 401 WQC application for the project, so the timelines for MassDEP’s review of the application have not yet been established. [Note that failure to submit written comments 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.]
In addition to the public comment period on the 401 WQC application, MassDEP plans on holding a series of public forums during its 401 WQC application review. The Commonwealth recognizes that the provisions of the final 401 WQC 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.
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 WQC process.
The Department welcomes thoughts you may have to ensure the public process is meaningful and accessible to all.
Sign up to receive email updates on the 401 WQC process for the FirstLight Power Application
Note: The start date of this project is not known at this time.
- The project start date is the next business day after FirstLight files their 401 WQC application with DEP.
- FERC has delayed the REA through May 31, 2023. FirstLight will submit the 401 WQC application to DEP within 60 days of FERC issuing 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 WQC 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 First Light Power’s 401 WQC application 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 FirstLight 401 WQC permit application:
- Ensure the public is informed of FirstLight project and the details of the permit application.
- Ensure the public is informed of the 401 WQC process, including the key milestones and opportunities for public comment.
- Provide an opportunity for the public to ask questions about the 401 WQC 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 FirstLight 401 WQC 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 401 WQC application. This input will be carefully considered as the Department develops the 401 WQC.
- Intended to fall within the public comment window, the public will be offered an opportunity to provide formal comment on the FirstLight 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 FirstLight proposal
(Note that while Department staff will be available to answer clarifying questions about the 401 WQC 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 401 WQC, along with issues under consideration
- Provide an opportunity for facilitated Q/A and discussion
- Receive any additional public comments on the FirstLight proposal and 401 WQC under consideration.
Public Forum Four (OPTIONAL) – (DATE TBD) At or Around Issuance of Final 401 WQC
- MassDEP will present a preview of final 401 WQC and any conditions included
- Provide an opportunity for facilitated Q/A and discussion
The 401 WQC Process
Below are links to the regulations governing the Massachusetts 401 WQC process and the applicable forms.
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.
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 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.