5.3 Fifteen Mile Falls, Connecticut River, New Hampshire and Vermont - FERC #2077

Project Description: The USGen PG&E operates three hydropower dams on the Connecticut River on the northern border of New Hampshire and Vermont. This project is one of the largest hydropower peaking projects in the region with a combined capacity of 369 MW. The project also receives water from multiple headwater storage reservoirs, which are not licensed. The settlement agreement was negotiated prior to and during the mandated project sale from New England Power to USGen PG&E due to deregulation laws. It was signed in September 1997 and submitted as the preferred alternative in an applicant prepared EA.

Magnitude of Lands Protection: The licensee agreed to protect almost 12,000 acres through permanent conservation easements to be co-held by The Nature Conservancy, Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and Vermont Land Trust. A fund of up to $500,000 to develop and endow the land easements was also established. Historic uses of low impact recreation and some logging will be permitted to continue. About one-third of the lands are in the project boundary and recognized by FERC in the license issued. The remaining lands were protected through a separate sidebar agreement. About one-quarter of these lands surround the unlicensed headwater reservoirs. A donation of 50 acres downstream of the project with significant conservation and recreation values was also donated. A river enhancement fund of up to $17 million dollars (exact amount will depend on power sales by formula) was also created, a portion of which can potentially be used for additional land protection, providing it has a nexus with the project and its impacts. The parties agreed to support a 40-year license.

Mechanism of Protection: Motivated by a successful settlement with its Deerfield River project, the owner elected to try a settlement in this licensing also. A settlement agreement was reached with fourteen NGOs, state and federal agencies in September 1997.

FERC Involvement: FERC issued the license in April 2002 with a statement that it agreed with the settlement agreement; however FERC ruled it could incorporate some but not all of these lands in the project boundary. This is not expected to effect the conservation easements. The settlement and license was negotiated through an Applicant Prepared Environmental Assessment (APEA) process with some coordination with FERC staff. In the draft EA, FERC excluded the river enhancement fund, but reinstated it in the final EA and license following protest from the signing parties.

Current Status: The license was issued in April 2002. The development and implementation of the fund and finalizing of the easement terms is currently in process.