Morrisville Water & Light customers received an insert with this month's electric bill encouraging them to attend a public hearing Tuesday night. The Vermont Agency of Natural Resources is holding the meeting to gather public comments on its draft Water Quality Certificate, which places new conditions on the utility's three hydroelectric dams.
Morrisville Water & Light owns and operates two hydroelectric dams on the Lamoille River, in Morristown, and one in Hyde Park on the Green River. The utility began the federal relicensing process for all three dams in 2010. Part of the process of renewing the dams' 30-year licenses from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is obtaining a water quality certification from the state.
Last month the Agency of Natural Resources issued a draft water quality certification that requires the utility to allow more water to bypass its dams to improve water quality and fish habitat. The utility says that will reduce its generation by one-third.
"MW&L understands the importance of water quality and fish habitat protection," the flyer that was inserted into electric bills states. "However MW&L believes that the ANR needs to take into account other factors beyond water quality and fish habitat, which they refuse to do. This increases our cost, putting upward pressure on our electric rates and requires us to secure replacement energy that is carbon-based, increasing the environmental footprint of our energy portfolio."
Morrisville Water & Light's flyer lists the following factors that it says should be taken into consideration:
- Economic (higher electric rates) for residential/business customers,
- Negative environmental aspect of replacement energy that needs to be purchased,
- The state's energy plan with a goal of producing as much energy as possible from renewable sources.
In addition, the utility notes that it's existing hydro infrastructure generates about 20 percent of its customers' annual energy needs.
"Our hydro plants exist now," the flyer states. "We believe maintaining or increasing generation from an existing resource is better for the environment that littering the landscape with wind turbines and individual solar panels."
Morrisville Water & Light says, to date, it has spent over five years and $600,000 to date on the relicensing process. Meanwhile, Lamoille County Senator Rich Westman has introduced a bill that would change the state water quality requirements regarding stream flows for municipally-owned hydroelectric plants. If passed, the bill would give power generation and flood protection equal footing with aesthetics, recreation, and aquatic habitat under the state's water quality standards.
A public hearing on the draft Morrisville Water & Light Water Quality Certificate is scheduled for Feb. 16 at 7 p.m., at Morristown Elementary School.