Support and concerns about FirstLight’s application to increase winter pumping capacity
NORTHFIELD — The independent system operator of the region’s electrical grid has written a letter of support on an application by Northfield Mountain hydroelectric project’s owners to boost its potential winter operation until its current federal license expires in 2018.
FirstLight Hydro Generating Co.’s application last month to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is similar to applications to amend the operating license for its 1,143-megawatt pumped storage project, that generates electricity by letting water from its mountaintop reservoir flow back to the Connecticut River through underground turbines. The same turbines also serve as pumps to bring river water to the 5-billion-gallon reservoir at times when the demand for energy, and thus the price, is lowest.
The difference this time is that the proposed amended operating conditions — allowing an additional 22 feet of pumping capacity to its reservoir — is being proposed for winter seasons for the duration of the 43-year-old plant’s operating license. A lengthy relicensing process with FERC is also under way.
ISO-New England, the Holyoke-based independent system operator of the region’s electric grid, wrote Thursday to FERC in support of the license amendment application, agreeing with FirstLight that the change would provide ISO-NE “with additional resources to address winter reliability needs, with no adverse impact.”
ISO-NE systems operation Vice President Peter Brandien wrote that the proposed change would address “a significant increase in the region’s demand for natural gas in recent years, such that, during cold winter periods, the region’s pipelines are at full, or near-full, capacity, restricting the amount of natural gas that can be delivered to generators through those pipelines.”
Brandien cited an updated natural gas study for the region by Fairfax, Va. consultants ICF International, which he said concluded that “winter peak day gas supplies will be barely adequate or slightly in deficit through 2020, as long as there are no major contingencies, such as an outage to gas supplies, loss of electrical sales to New England from the north due to extreme weather, or a nuclear unit tripping offline.”
ISO-New England “seeks to fully utilize the existing electric and fuel infrastructure, including storage capability, in New England to assure reliable electric service each winter,” the letter continues in explaining its support. “The additional flexible, quick-starting pumped hydro generation can help to address systems needs when fuel is scarce, and can serve as an additional operating reserve.”