Kathy Urffer: Connecticut River Profits Should Benefit Local Communities

This commentary is from Kathy Urffer, river steward for the Connecticut River Conservancy in Vermont and New Hampshire.

The owners of five hydroelectric facilities on the Connecticut River – the Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon Dams in Vermont and New Hampshire, and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project and the Turners Falls Dam in Massachusetts – are seeking new licenses from operating with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. that will allow these businesses to continue to enjoy more than 175 miles of the Connecticut River for the next 40 to 50 years.

How much of these profits will go to local communities to support your river?

The three facilities in Vermont and New Hampshire are owned by Great River Hydro, a limited liability subsidiary of ArcLight, a Boston-based private equity firm that invests in energy infrastructure. The Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon dams, along with several others on the Connecticut and Deerfield rivers, were previously owned by TransCanada and were sold to ArcLight in 2017.

Since this company is a private limited liability company, the public has little financial information on how Great River Hydro benefits our river. The Connecticut River Conservancy and many other stakeholders want to ensure that in return for this license, the public gets a good deal for the use of their river for the next 40 years.

Great River Hydro says it will spend $ 10.1 million in Wilder, $ 12.5 million in Bellows Falls and $ 12.4 million in Vernon over the next 40 years to reduce impacts on aquatic species and improve river health, public recreational and cultural facilities. That sounds like a lot of money – a total of $ 35.1 million over 40 years, or $ 877,825 per year – but let’s put that in context …

While there are no public reports on the annual income and expenses of these LLCs, some financial information is available from the required disclosures of the company’s FERC license applications filed in 2016 and 2020, valuations of the company. ‘property tax by local cities and public information based on electricity and capacity pricing.

Based on its documents, Great River Hydro indicated that Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon collectively achieved $ 27.9 million in revenue in 2016 and $ 33.5 million in 2019. Based on what is reasonable to say. ” include in their reported operating costs this is between $ 1.8 million and $ 18.3 million per year, but they intend to invest only $ 877,825 per year in protective measures and mitigation, such as improved fish passage, improved river access and educational programs for our communities.

These hydropower companies invest for the short term, and as people forget what the companies have promised as a result of the license renewal process, they reap the benefits of the facilities for decades to come.

Let’s not forget that Great River Hydro has worked hard to cut taxes by using its lawyers to arm the cities that host these facilities. For example, the town of Vernon had to enter into a settlement agreement in 2014 to satisfy the appeal of TransCanada (the precursor to Green River Hydro) regarding its 2012, 2013 and 2014 taxes, which froze the assessed value of the installation of Vernon until 2019.

Likewise, Rockingham had to spend four years in court with Great River Hydro to resolve an appeal of its 2012 tax assessment. Until this issue is resolved, Great River Hydro has appealed its 2015 taxes and taxes. 2016 in Rockingham, which led the city to agree to a settlement in 2018 setting the assessed value of the Bellows Falls facility at $ 103.6 million through 2022, even though the outcome of the 2016 lawsuit set valued at $ 127.4 million.

Great River Hydro has proposed a change in how the facilities will operate over the next license, which will help the river and not impact their revenues. A real win-win!

We are not opposed to Great River Hydro making a reasonable return on its investment, but it should only get it after reaching a better deal with the public and our local communities. It means being transparent and telling the full story of your income and expenses and ensuring that that profit returns every year to support our communities and the health of your river for the next 40 years.

Local communities, states and individuals should be prepared to comment on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission when we have the opportunity to ensure these new licenses help support the river and your local communities. You can learn to express yourself at ctriver.org/hydropower or at powerofwater.fish.

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