The Recorder – My Turn: Northfield Mountain an asset in the fight against climate change

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This Earth Week, let’s take stock of the climate change solutions Massachusetts will need as it commits to a major commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050. recently enacted climate law sets ambitious goals to decarbonise the state’s electricity supply by deploying large amounts of renewable resources like solar and wind, and the corresponding energy storage capacity is needed to balance these intermittent resources. As New England’s largest producer of clean energy, FirstLight knows how important this effort will be in securing the future of our state.

Unlike many states committed to tackling climate change, Massachusetts’ efforts retain a significant advantage due to the existence of the two largest sources of energy storage in all of New England: Northfield Mountain and Bear Swamp. . Pumped hydraulic storage is not like traditional power generation – it is, in fact, the largest and most flexible form of energy storage available. It is designed to store electricity in off-peak hours and feed it back into the grid when we need it most, typically in the late afternoon when solar energy begins to dwindle as the sun shines. goes to bed.

According to The United States DOE Hydropower Vision Report, pumped storage is more flexible, has a longer plant life and lower operating costs than other technologies, concluding that pumped storage projects will help realize the untapped renewable resource potential by America and represent an important part of our country’s clean energy future. Likewise, the State of California, widely recognized as a world leader in the deployment of clean energy, recently requested the development of thousands of megawatts of new pumped storage as essential to achieving its goals under the seminal climate change law.

Closer to home, researchers at UMass Lowell concluded that as the region seeks to step up efforts to deploy the country’s first offshore wind farms, pumped storage will need to be exploited to its fullest impact. The report emphasizes that “[t]The enormous untapped potential of hydraulic pumping facilities for storage and moderation of the intermittent nature of renewable electricity must be recognized as it offers more than four times the capacity and flow over twice the duration of the standard [battery] systems.

Recently, several opinion pieces published in local newspapers have perpetuated certain misconceptions about Northfield Mountain, which are based on outdated information and old perceptions of the project. While it is true that Northfield was originally designed to capture excess nuclear power during off-peak periods and feed that energy back into the grid during peak periods, these resources are now ideally suited to capture nuclear power. excess offshore wind in the same way. The concept is the same, only this application would avoid reductions in wind generation when the wind is blowing but excess electricity is not needed. Instead of wasting this renewable energy, we can store it and then feed it back into the system when we need it most.

Commentators have raised concerns about the environmental impact of the facility in the context of our request for a new federal operating license, a process known as license renewal. For almost a decade, we have been engaged in this process to ensure a new set of operating conditions that will protect the environment. In coordination with our stakeholders, we have conducted more than 40 different studies to assess the environmental impact, recreational opportunities and possible impacts on the heritage of the region.

In December 2020, we filed our formal request, committing to invest $ 130 million in new investments to restore fish passage beyond the Turners Falls Dam, eliminate entrainment of fish in the Upper Pond of the Mount Northfield, improve recreational opportunities and better support our host communities. . While this won’t happen overnight, the improvements will ensure Northfield Mountain continues to deliver incredible value to the Commonwealth by fighting climate change while simultaneously investing in the future of our communities.

FirstLight’s assets have been providing clean, affordable electricity to New England homes and businesses for decades, but perhaps more than ever, these facilities are uniquely positioned to play a leadership role in the future. clean energy from Massachusetts. Our assets also employ local union workers and provide millions of dollars in local economic benefits. Let’s recognize and embrace the real climate action that’s already happening in our own backyards and look to an even brighter, more sustainable future.

Alicia Barton is CEO of FirstLight and former CEO of Mass CEC and NYSERDA.


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