New England’s largest battery

Pumped-hydro facility plays key role for region

Editor’s note: An op-ed critical of Northfield written by Karl Meyer was published on March 17.

AS THE LARGEST BATTERY in New England, FirstLight Power’s Northfield Mountain pumped-hydro storage facility currently plays an essential role in maintaining and restoring stable electric grid operations for New England due to the fast speed in which it can ramp up to full power and its significant energy storage capability.

For example, earlier this month, after energy imported over large power lines from Canada was unexpectedly curtailed, Northfield Mountain’s capability was on full display, assisting in the swift recovery of most of the lost power in under 10 minutes.  As a result, residents were spared the need to dispatch additional fossil fuel generation to make up the gap.  In addition, and more importantly, FirstLight’s facility also has the ability to provide Massachusetts with on-peak access to large quantities of clean, renewable energy generated in off-peak hours in an unprecedented way, both in terms of reliability and safety.

Specifically, Northfield Mountain is an ideal partner for Massachusetts’ new and environmentally beneficial wind power initiatives.  By coordinating the storage at Northfield Mountain of wind power energy that is generated during periods of lower electric demand for later delivery to consumers in periods of higher demand, Massachusetts electric consumers will benefit by seeing reduced energy costs and reduced carbon emissions.

The results are clear: by optimizing the capabilities of Northfield Mountain, the Commonwealth can capture the opportunity to further reduce energy costs for consumers, minimize the emissions of carbon dioxide, and limit the region’s dependence on natural gas.  In contrast, if lithium ion batteries were used to replace such energy storage capability, as some have suggested, it would easily cost $2.8 billion or more.

Deepwater Wind, the nation’s leading developer of offshore wind, has recognized the ability of Northfield’s pumped storage facility to assist them in their timely delivery of clean energy to Massachusetts utilities. The resulting project, called Revolution Wind, will help to ensure that Massachusetts residents are reaping critical environmental and economic benefits in an efficient and cutting edge manner.  According to an analysis done by Energyzt Advisors, LLC, Northfield Mountain has the ability to save residents upwards of $242 million on an annual basis, mitigate up to 200 million tons of carbon emissions annually, and reduce the need for additional natural gas pipeline capacity simply through coordinated pairing with other clean energy resources.

FirstLight’s pumped storage facility prioritizes safety and environmental stewardship, which is why FirstLight operates responsibly within its existing federal license by complying with all safety, environmental and recreation requirements. Moreover, FirstLight is working collaboratively with the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, the US Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and many non-governmental organizations, to develop a new license that will allow Northfield Mountain to operate many years in the future in a manner that benefits the environment while ensuring that the people of Massachusetts can continue to effectively utilize the largest energy storage facility in New England.

Over the years, FirstLight has invested millions of dollars in making Northfield Mountain not only a first-rate energy producer but also a premier recreational center.  The company’s facilities include 26 miles of hiking, cross-country skiing, mountain biking trails, and public picnic areas.  FirstLight also maintains and operates camping grounds – and canoeing and kayaking – at Munn’s Ferry and Barton Cove along the Connecticut River.

In the past decade, Northfield Mountain has hosted more than 685,000 people, including more than 700 school groups alone.  In addition to all of these benefits, our assets provide western Massachusetts communities with a huge influx of property tax revenue, accounting for up to 80 percent of the total tax base in some communities.

Meet the Author

John Shue

Senior vice president, FirstLight Power
Today, Northfield Mountain is proud to act as the go-to facility for the Commonwealth when the grid faces challenging circumstances. As a US-incorporated, Massachusetts-based company employing residents, FirstLight looks forward to helping the Commonwealth meet its energy needs in a clean and economical manner. FirstLight views the capabilities of its Northfield Mountain generator as an asset of the Commonwealth and believes the Commonwealth should benefit from all it can offer.

John Shue is the senior vice president at FirstLight Power.