(Click X3 to enlarge; back arrow to return) A happy Northfield Mountain greeting. Nothing about net-loss power and an endless cycle of river predation. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved NOTE: the following piece appeared in The ...
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"Karl Meyer Writing Blog" - 5 new articles

  1. PROFIT and PAYBACK on NEW ENGLAND’S RIVER
  2. IS IT CLEAN? Connecticut River at its most Critical Habitat
  3. A RIVER in HEATSTROKE: A Photo Portrait on July’s Hottest Day
  4. Waterkeeper Alliance to be featured on PBS’s The Visionaries
  5. Paying for Journalism: why Democracy Depends on It
  6. More Recent Articles

PROFIT and PAYBACK on NEW ENGLAND’S RIVER


(Click X3 to enlarge; back arrow to return)

 

A happy Northfield Mountain greeting. Nothing about net-loss power and an endless cycle of river predation. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved

NOTE: the following piece appeared in The Greenfield Recorder on August 1, 2020.
https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-meyer-profitandpayback-35485611

PROFIT and PAYBACK on NEW ENGLAND’S RIVER

Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer All Rights Reserved

Recorder readers may have been surprised to see pictures of FirstLight Power’s new CEO Alicia Barton and Board President Phil Giudice recently. Photos are nice. But their profiles may have left people with misconceptions–particularly about clean energy and describing the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Station as a “zero emissions energy storage facility.” FirstLight’s commitments to the Commonwealth and our 4-state Connecticut River are questionable. On December 20, 2018 they left us, re-registering all three facilities profiting off massive consumption of this river into a series of limited liability companies in Delaware.

FirstLight is largely a Canadian outfit, a subsidiary of the huge venture capital firm, PSP Investments. PSP arrived four years back to buy up the Northfield Mountain and the Turners Falls/Cabot hydro facilities from GDF Suez. And while they employ perhaps a hundred folks locally, the profits they mine from our river are largely exported to distant shareholders.

Readers should understand Northfield Mountain is a gas powered contraption, not a hydro-powered facility. It is a giant net-energy-loss operation. The massive amount of juice NMPS pulls from the grid daily is overwhelmingly generated from climate-burning natural gas—today’s main source of New England power. Grid operator ISO-New England, reported natural gas accounted for 48.5% of all energy consumed in the region in 2019, while nuclear dumped in 30.5% and hydro—mostly imported from Canada, chipped in 8.9%. At 2 p.m. this July 29, 2020, ISO-NE’s energy mix was 75% gas, 18% nuclear, 4% renewables, and 2% hydro–largely imported. And, while NMPS sucks life from the river at of the heart of the Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, it’s never created a single watt of virgin electricity.

According to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2019 NMPS consumed 1.114 billion Gross Kilowatt Hours of electricity while reproducing just 828 million GKHs. In 2018 NMPS consumed 1.205 billion GKH pumping the river uphill, but later returned only 907 million GKH of peak-priced power. Some years it’s consumes a full 1/3 more juice than it regurgitates.

This is a river-killing water storage and relay contraption, suctioning hours-long loops of water and fish from an ecosystem. Northfield sucks the river at rates up to 15,000 cubic feet per second to their 4 billion gallon reservoir. That 15,000 cfs amounts to gulping in a 7 bedroom, 8 bathroom mansion–filled with aquatic life, every second. Picture one instantly imploded–all fish, eggs, animals and insects killed on a twice-through Northfield sleigh ride. Now, picture 60 per minute, 600 every 10 minutes–3,600 mansions vaporized an hour–for hours on end.

Meanwhile, FirstLight’s traditional hydro-power operations 5 miles downstream at Turners Falls reported producing 316 million Gross Kilowatt Hours in 2018. In 2019 those same operations totaled 357 million GKHs. A little math shows that the 398 million GKH Northfield-created pumping deficit in 2018 erased nearly all 316 million GKH of the actual hydropower produced at Turners Falls. In 2019, Northfield’s deficit of 286 million GKHs erased a full 75% percent of all its downstream hydro contributions—negating all but a mere 71 million GKH of the total 357 produced.

FirstLight brags it can power a million homes for several hours, but never states in doing so it’s already burned through the energy for over 1,250,000 million homes. That math may work to cover the occasional grid slump or extremely rare blackout (what Northfield was originally designed for), but its continued daily use is grim news for the climate, the ecosystem; and river. After dumping out their few hours of electricity each day, NMPS is literally dead. De-watered, it must begin that massive juice and river consumption all over.

Studies on American shad show tens of millions of eggs and larvae are vaporized by Northfield annually, and add to that the outright loss of over 2 million juvenile shad sucked up on migrations back to the ocean. Five migratory species are subjected to NMPS. In total, 24 species–nearly all unstudied, live here. It’s doubtful any proposed 1000 foot barrier net strung across its giant, subsurface mouth will effectively protect fish–or the rest of a river’s aquatic life from its year-round carnage.

Northfield is now operating on an extended 50-year old FERC license. The original expired April 30, 2018. FirstLight, of Delaware and Canada, continues its profitting–while seeming in no hurry to complete a FERC relicensing process now dragging into its 9th year. It’s time to pony up. Time to stop killing fish and starving an ecosystem. By law, hundreds of thousands of fish are entitled to a new fish lift at Turners Falls and safe passage at NMPS annually. And no years-in-the-future corporate promise of pairing grim river pumped storage with ocean turbines 150 miles away will ever make those net-loss megawatts “clean” or “renewable.” They’re just patently miserable.

Karl Meyer lives in Greenfield. He’s been a member of the Fish and Aquatics Study Team in the FERC relicensing for Northfield Mountain and Turners Falls projects since 2012. Meyer is a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists.

    

IS IT CLEAN? Connecticut River at its most Critical Habitat

IS IT CLEAN? Connecticut River at its most Critical Habitat
Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 


Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

THIS LITTLE PHOTO ESSAY WAS taken in the early morning hours of July 26, 2020, on the Connecticut River at the Rock Dam. This would be another brutal 90 degree day in this fragile site on a largely dewatered river. This is the Connecticut River at the Rock Dam pool, which is the critical spawning site for the endangered shortnose sturgeon. American shad also spawn here. Also, it may well be the last refuge in this river section for the state-endangered yellow lampmussel.

The photos begin by showing the Connecticut River looking upstream at the Rock Dam, and then trace the grim soup entering the site from the failing riverbanks of FirstLight’s Cabot Woods area, adjacent to the Turners Falls Power Canal. Basically, it walk you back along the manganese and iron muck trail heading up the riverbank along FirstLight’s eroded and crumbling access, and then takes you up top–looking back down on the failing sludge slumping down to the river, and then to their scoured-out, wood chipped picnic area, before the added in pictures of the adjacent canal/swamp–the obvious source water for the seeping sludge pollution.

I will let you judge for yourself as to: Is it CLEAN? And, more importantly, IS IT PROTECTED??
(CLICK ANY PHOTO X3 to ENLARGE)

Looking across and upstream on the river at Rock Dam. Endangered species habitat? Really??
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


A sneaker adds a bit of perspective.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Connecticut River below Rock Dam, with the cobbled area in the background where shortnose sturgeon larvae are supposed to find shelter and protection to develop.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Red pool feeding into base of Rock Dam habitat.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Sludge close-up, going uphill from where the owners simply dumped rubble down the banks in years past. What Clean Water Act?
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The grim red soup, looking up the slumping banks from Rock Dam to FirstLight’s Cabot Woods ‘picnic’ area…
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The eroded, unmaintained “access” path leading down to Rock Dam, with abandoned stair pilings visible in background.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


From above, FirstLight’s failed banks leaching down to the Connecticut from above the Rock Dam.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Looking down to Rock Dam over FirstLights failed riverbanks.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


This chipped-tree path of scoured out woods leading to Rock Dam.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
What’s the activating source water for these failed Connecticut River banks? Humnnn…Just a few hundred feet away sits the TURNERS FALLS CANAL.
This picture is from 2009, the last time the canal swamp was mucked out.


This is TF Canal July 24, 2020. It is now more swamp than canal in its location adjacent to the Connecticut at Cabot Woods/Rock Dam
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


This is TF Canal July 24, 2020. This is a swamp.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

    

A RIVER in HEATSTROKE: A Photo Portrait on July’s Hottest Day

A RIVER in HEATSTROKE: A Photo Portrait on July’s Hottest Day
Story and pictures Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

The above photo of the “Great Falls” at Turners Falls was taken at approximately 6:45 am, on July 19, 2020, the hottest day on a boiling-out planet this year. The riverbed below was simply left to bake in this reach until just after 4 pm. (CLICK x 3 to enlarge; BACK ARROW to return)
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 

I continued downstream on this, the most critical and imperiled reach in the entire Silvio O. Conte National Fish & Wildlife Refuge, through the two desperate miles of abused river channal, all the way to the Rock Dam, critical spawning site for the federally endangered Connecticut River shortnose sturgeon.

Locked-down river, starved in front of the “tainter gates” on the Gill side of the river. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The stilled-water graveyard, just downstream of the TF Dam on the Gill side of the Connecticut. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Starving, de-oxygenated river on the Turner Falls side, looking downstream, with Peskeomscutt Island–now, no longer an island, de-watered and attached by tilted shales to the land. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


The entire flow of the Connecticut (save for a dribble of 125 cubic feet per second mandated to enter from a chute 100 feet downstream of the dam to keep shortnose sturgeon from stranding and dying in the baking pools) is shunted into the muck and sludge accumulating Turners Falls power canal. Pictured here, the canal downstream adjacent to Cabot Woods, back in 2009, the last time it was mucked out by the heavy machinery pictured. (Click x3)
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


Here is the same area, pictured above, with the shunted Connecticut flow moving listlessly by the sludge-catching silt banks on the morning of July 19, 2020. This is the canal and just part of the grim habitats that ALL migratory fish must must face before emerging upstream of Turners Falls Dam. USGS Conte Fish Lab is visible in the background. Few fish ever manage to survive the puzzled and emerge to spawn in wide open upstream habitats stretching beyond Bellows Falls VT. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Another look from a similar vantage with the Fish Lab in the background and a grim canal substituted for a living river. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


View from the opposite side–from the rail trail, July 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


And, lastly, just some of the Campbell’s Tomato Soup-looking sludge bleeding down FirstLight’s failing riverbanks at Cabot Woods–adjacent to their sludge-choked canal, and into the endangered shortnose sturgeon’s Rock Dam spawning site and nursery for developing young on July 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


A closer look, 07/19/2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


And another, 07/19/2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED


And, just yards away, the slurry connection–where the grim soup enters the most critically endangered site in the entire river ecosystem: the Rock Dam, on July 19, 2020. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

That riverbank soup was already assaulting Rock Dam habitats back in September 2019. Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Ten months has passed since this photo was taken. The banks continue to fail, the site continues to be assaulted through pollution, and outright neglect and flaunting a ESA protections.
Photo Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

    

Waterkeeper Alliance to be featured on PBS’s The Visionaries

Above: Delaware Waterkeeper telling it straight.

I walked into the Solar Store of Greenfield about two weeks back and noted this large sign propped up against the front desk. This is an organization that is now the umbrella for all the Riverkeeper, Baykeeper, and Waterkeeper organizations that have sprung up by the hundreds across the planet. As shown here, there is a chapter on the Delaware. These are strong, direct, hands-on river and water protection outfits that take enforcement of environmental laws to heart, and take the corporations exploiting resources and skirting public rights into the courtroom. They’ve won many victories against energy giants, including just west of here on the Hudson River, as Hudson Riverkeeper.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ek0Xq5zKgC4

The Waterkeeper Alliance is being featured throughout the summer on PBS for its courage, effectiveness, and as a leading model of environmental protection. The episode begins airing on July 9th. Those interested in an effective blueprint for protecting rivers here in New England can tune in and learn more on PBS when it runs locally, or simply use the link ABOVE to see it now.

    

Paying for Journalism: why Democracy Depends on It

Here is a link to a piece published in The Greenfield Recorder on Saturday, June 27, 2020. The original text is reprinted here, immediately below the link.

https://www.recorder.com/my-turn-Meyer-journalism-34918407

Paying for Journalism: why Democracy Depends on It
Copyright © 2020 by Karl Meyer

Paying for journalism is patriotic—whether it’s for the investigative stories from an online subscription, a newspaper, or original reporting from public TV and radio. If all politics is local then so too is all news. And in tough times it’s up to citizens to support and keep local reporting front and center. Without it, democracy withers.

The First Amendment, securing the franchise of democracy and freedom of expression for all citizens of the United States, reads thus, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Yet on June 1st, US Attorney General William Barr shoved a stick into the eye of the First Amendment. He and President Trump used a phalanx of US Park Police, chemical pepper spray, and a military helicopter to clear a passionate, largely peaceful group of demonstrators from Lafayette Park. This, so the President–flanked by riot police and a military commander, could have a picture taken holding a Bible before a church he had no membership in. It smacked of blatant disrespect for Black people, local religious leaders, free speech and the rights of the citizenry. The king got his photo op.

Then, on June 18th AG Barr made a quietly-arranged stop in Boston–a city with a troubled racial history. He met with Boston’s first Black Commissioner of Police, the recently promoted William Gross. For Commissioner Gross it would’ve been tough to refuse a meeting with the nation’s top law enforcement officer. But for Barr the optics of the visit may have actually been a bigger feature–as one of his aides made sure a request for a quick photo-op was soon posted to social media. A smiling Barr with the Commissioner–seemingly all unified in liberal, troubled Boston, just another fact-empty, news-like social media coup.

Late Friday June 19th when people weren’t focused on news, Attorney General Barr manufactured a press release intended to intimidate Geoffrey Berman–US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, into silently resigning his position of 2-1/2 years. The lie Barr made up about Berman stated he was “stepping down” from his post. No cause given. Barr’s fabrication fell on its face when Berman informed the public, “I have not resigned, I have no intention of resigning.” While Berman refused to go quietly, it must also be noted the Attorney General’s intent was that his power would be bowed-to—and that his late-night maneuver would then subtly mislead US citizens about the facts–about the truth. In grade school parlance writing that false narrative made William Barr plainly, simply, a liar.

William Barr is an accomplished politician. But as the nation’s top legal official I’d describe him as cunning; unfit to umpire a tee-ball game. As a writer, journalist—and citizen, I’m kind of attached to the First Amendment. But Barr has recently made a mockery of that clause in the Bill of Rights. Maybe he’d like it erased. And it seems his boss would rather see the Second Amendment emplaced as law number # 1. At that point any democracy left for your kids may be squeezed down to merely the number of rounds contained in a military style-assault weapon.

When people holding the highest positions in government repeatedly lie, democracy is in danger. When they wield power like a cattle prod at anyone speaking truths they don’t want to hear, Mr. Lincoln’s “government of the people, for the people, and by the people” is in peril. When fear, anger, and blame are used to deflect responsibility for death, discord and disaster in a country desperately in need of courage, compassion, and healing, that country is moving dangerously close to dictatorship.

I’ve never grown tired of democracy. It is the great, imperfect experiment that’s made us unique. When dictators, at times, tried to bully their way to the top of our system, all eventually failed when a light was shined on their actions. And it was journalists, editors, the professional news media–backed by the First Amendment, doing that work. Their stories shone a light not from above, but from street level–work that was bolstered by a common trust, a linkage with the people of America’s cities and towns. Professional reporting and a free press are critical to democracy. Planted, news-like stories and pomp-and-flag-draped photo ops of leaders crying “fake news” when confronted with facts imperil it. Support real journalism, it’s worth every penny.

    

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