Wind. Solar. Hydro. Natural gas. Nuclear.
Anywhere you look, a major story that’s sure to remain very much with us in the coming year is energy – and its implications for the environment. To be sure, a continuation of an ongoing struggle over bringing safe, reliable and cost-effective energy solutions closer to fruition for more people will continue to foment discussion and debate.
The most significant energy question in the coming year, in terms of potential long-range environmental impact on the region, is relicensing of the hydroelectric facilities along the Connecticut River – including the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, the Turners Falls, Vernon, Vt., and (Montague City) Cabot stations.
Among the issues to be decided as part of the process before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as part of relicensing the projects for up to 50 years is riverbank erosion, fish habitat in the river’s “dry stretches” in Turners Falls, and recreational river access.
FERC, which began its relicensing process in early 2013, is expected to issue new licenses in 2018.
Meanwhile, the state Department of Public Utilities is continuing its review of Berkshire Gas Co.’s four-year forecast and resource plan to address future needs through 2021. Evidentiary hearings are set for April 4 and 5 for the plans into how Berkshire Gas will provide incremental capacity and lift its nearly 3-year-old moratorium on expansion in its eastern service area, including Greenfield, Montague, Deerfield, Sunderland and Whately in Franklin County.
The company has proposed either building a new liquefied natural gas storage facility somewhere in that area or expansion of its distribution main system between Greenfield and its supply interconnection in Southwick.
Entergy Nuclear Corp. will continue to pursue its sale to NorthStar Group Services Inc., with the hope of getting federal and Vermont approval by the end of 2018 to close a deal that would decommission the Vernon, Vt., reactor site by 2030, instead of taking 30 years longer. (All that would remain on the site where Vermont Yankee’s reactor shut down two years ago would be storage of nuclear waste.)
The Vermont Public Service Board, which is being asked to approve the transfer to NorthStar by March 31, 2018, must first adopt site restoration standards, and is expected to conduct public hearings in the year ahead.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts legislators are poised to revisit the omnibus energy legislation that took much of the last session and called for procurement of 1,600 megawatts of both offshore wind and hydro power from Canada or upstate New York but failed to increase the Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard requiring utilities to obtain a minimum amount of their electricity from solar and wind.
“We made a step forward; we needed a leap forward,” said Senate President Stan Rosenberg of Amherst when a compromise was reached in August. “We will have to revisit this next session.”
Without dealing with the ongoing need to lift the cap on home solar hookups on the grid, to create incentives to boost home energy efficiency or to encourage utilities to increase their renewable energy procurements, legislators like newly elected Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield say there is more work for the Legislature to do.
“We need to revisit solar metering again because we have hit the cap in certain regions,” Rosenberg said recently. “We don’t want to slow down the growth and installation of solar power in the commonwealth.”
Rep. Peter Kocot of Northampton also says he will push to put the state on a path to be 100 percent reliant on clean energy by 2050, adding “Moving to a green energy system creates jobs.”
Gas and wind issues
Also looming in the months ahead are hearings that could untangle development of Tennessee Gas Pipeline Co.’s Connecticut Expansion Project, which has been slated to cut 2.3 miles through Otis State Forest in Sandisfield.
The project, which would deliver natural gas into Connecticut, despite Article 97 of the Massachusetts Constitution prohibiting the taking of public conservation land, has been delayed in a court appeals and lawsuits, despite Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approval of the $86 million project in the Albany suburb of Bethlehem, N.Y., in Sandisfield and Agawam Pipe Line Awareness Network for the Northeast has appealed a clean-water certification by the state Department of Environmental Protection, and a Berkshire Superior Court ruling that the U.S. Natural Gas Act overrides Massachusetts Article 97 is on hold as the court reviews citizen demands for compensation for land that would be taken by eminent domain.
Tennessee Gas Pipeline, which abandoned plans earlier this year for a pipeline that would have cut through eight Franklin County towns, has also sued DEP and environmental officials and citizens and is calling for a hearing by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston to overrule the citizens’ appeal.
Hearings on the two appeals are scheduled at DEP and the federal appeals court in January.
Last, but not least, a 12.5-megawatt Minuteman Wind project proposed for a high ridge in Savoy has raised concerns in neighboring Hawley, where the five turbines would be seen rising 425 feet on a 293-acre site less than 1,000 feet from the Hawley line, and some residents say they worry about noise.
Hawley has its own Wind Facility Bylaw that restricts the height of wind turbine towers to 200 feet, but that does not affect projects just across the border. Residents have also expressed concern over heavy trucks carrying wind turbine components, gravel and concrete traveling over town roads.
The turbines are projected to produce about 30,000 megawatt hours of electricity a year to feed the region’s electric grid.
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