Vermont Yankee nuclear shutdown slows FERC hydro relicensing in area

Plans to shut the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant have put something of a crimp in plans by FirstLight Hydro Generating Co. for relicensing of hydroelectric facilities in the same watershed from which the nuclear plant draws its cooling water.

On Sept. 13, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission sent a letter to FirstLight Hydro Generating that contains the study plan determination for the Turners Falls Hydroelectric Project and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, both located on the Connecticut River in the states of Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont.

On April 15, FirstLight Hydro Generating filed its proposed plan for 36 studies covering geologic and soil resources, water quality, geomorphology, hydrology, instream flow, fish and aquatic resources, wildlife resources, botanical resources, recreation and aesthetic resources, and cultural and paleontological resources in support of its intent to relicense the projects. Following the conclusion of study plan meetings and receipt of comments on its proposed study plan and updated proposed study plan, FirstLight filed its revised study plan on Aug. 14. The revised study plan includes 38 proposed studies.

On Aug. 27, Entergy announced that it plans to decommission its Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant during the fourth quarter of 2014. “Vermont Yankee withdraws its cooling water from and discharges it back to TransCanada Hydro Northeast’s reservoir for the Vernon Hydroelectric Project No. 1904,” FERC noted in the Sept. 13 letter. “The Vernon reservoir is located immediately upstream of the Turners Falls reservoir. Operation of Vermont Yankee has increased Connecticut River water temperatures within the Vernon reservoir and downstream through the Turners Falls Project since the plant went into operation in 1972. Because this will no longer be the case after 2014, FirstLight’s proposed aquatic studies may produce unusable data if conducted during 2014 while Vermont Yankee is still operating. Because of this unusual circumstance, we are not issuing a determination on 18 of FirstLight’s proposed aquatic resource studies at this time but are addressing the 20 studies that are not likely to be influenced by the presence or absence of Vermont Yankee’s operation.”

FERC said it intends to hold a technical meeting to obtain more information on the proposed Vermont Yankee decommissioning and hear from the licensee and stakeholders on any necessary adjustments to the proposed and requested study designs and/or schedules. Thereafter, the commission will issue a study plan determination on the aquatic resource studies.

Said the FirstLight website about the Northfield Mountain facility: “Located in Northfield, Massachusetts, approximately five and one-half miles up the Connecticut River from Turners Falls Dam, the 1,080 megawatt plant is entirely underground and does not depend upon the natural flow of the river for operation. Utilizing energy that is generated at nuclear and the more efficient of our fossil plants, water from the lower reservoir is pumped to an upper reservoir during periods of low power demand. The water is stored in the upper reservoir and then, at times of high electric demand, is released down a 1,100-foot-long pressure shaft to power a turbine generator and continues to the lower reservoir where it is stored until it again resumes its cycle to the upper reservoir. The 20-mile stretch of the Connecticut River, extending from the dam at Turners Falls north to the Vernon Dam in Vermont, serves as the station’s lower reservoir. The man-made 300-acre upper reservoir, 800 feet above the river, is capable of storing 5.6 billion gallons of water.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.