Hydropower, News

21 New England municipal electric utilities make historic hydropower purchase commitment

Energy New England CEO JOHN G. TZIMORANGAS (left) and FirstLight Power CEO ALICIA BARTON (right) at FirstLight's hydroelectric power generation facility in Turners Falls, Massachusetts.Credit: Beth Pelton

In the largest municipal electric department purchase of renewable power in New England history, 21 public power entities from Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont have agreed to purchase 200 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) per year of hydroelectric power produced by FirstLight Power in Western Massachusetts.

The purchase agreement, structured and executed by Energy New England, will cover the year-round electric power demands of 23,000 typical homes while saving participating utilities’ ratepayers millions of dollars over the life of the contract, said FirstLight in a press release.

By relying on hydropower from the Cabot and Turners Falls generating facilities on the Connecticut River in Montague instead of electricity produced by natural gas or oil, the contract will deliver carbon-dioxide emissions reductions equal to taking 30,000 cars off the road by 2023.

“Never before have so many municipal light plants, municipal electric departments, and other public power utilities come together to buy emissions-free renewable power on this scale,’’ said Energy New England president and CEO John G. Tzimorangas. “We are honored to have had the chance to connect our ‘munis’ with one of Massachusetts’ premier energy suppliers, FirstLight Power, for this landmark transaction that will deliver environmental and economic benefits for years to come.”

FirstLight CEO Alicia Barton said: “Our Cabot and Turners Falls hydroelectric generating stations that will deliver this power have been key elements of Massachusetts’ energy network for more than a century and help support more than 110 great jobs in Western Massachusetts and across the state. We’re looking forward to serving municipal utilities across New England in reaching their states’ targets for reducing emissions and addressing climate change while delivering affordable, reliable electricity to thousands of our neighbors.”

The 21 public power entities participating in the contract include 18 in Massachusetts: Belmont Municipal Light Department, Braintree Electric Light Department, Concord Municipal Light Plant, Danvers Electric Division, Georgetown Municipal Light Department, Groveland Municipal Light Department, Hingham Municipal Lighting Plant, Mass Development/Devens Utilities, Merrimac Municipal Light Department, Middleboro Gas & Electric Department, Merrimac Municipal Electric Department, North Attleboro Electric Department, Norwood Municipal Light Department, Reading Municipal Light Department, Rowley Municipal Lighting Plant, Taunton Municipal Lighting Plan, Wellesley Municipal Light Plant, and Westfield Gas & Electric.

Also participating are the Block Island Utility District and Pascoag Utility District in Rhode Island and Stowe Electric Department in Vermont.

Power purchased by Massachusetts municipal electric utilities served by Energy New England already accounts for on average 29 percent fewer carbon emissions from electric generation than average Commonwealth electricity-sector carbon emissions. The new contract with FirstLight will further improve the munis’ carbon profile to an average of 34 percent below the state average.

“While the Legislature continues to work on advancing laws governing how municipal light plants will support the Commonwealth’s net-zero by 2050 commitment, I am pleased to see this group of munis stepping up with a significant expansion of their procurement of renewable and carbon-free electricity, produced right here in Massachusetts,” said State Representative Thomas A. Golden, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Committee on Telecommunications, Utilities, and Energy.

First Light’s Cabot Generating Station is Massachusetts’ largest conventional hydropower facility, located on the Connecticut River in Montague. First put into service in 1916, the facility comprises six generating units with combined capacity of 62 megawatts, enough to power more than 50,000 homes. Turners Falls, just upstream of Cabot, consists of 5 generators with combined capacity of 6 megawatts and was commissioned in 1905.