BERLIN — The relicensing of the eight hydroelectric plants on the stretch of the Androscoggin River between Berlin and Shelburne is methodically moving forward.
Back in 2019, Great Lakes Hydro America and Central Rivers Power NH filed notices of intent with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to file for new licenses. FERC oversees licensing of all non-federal hydro-electric power projects.
While there are two separate owners, FERC decided to treat the eight hydroelectric facilities as one large complex because they are located together on an 11-mile stretch of the river.
The owners have since submitted draft license applications and their final license applications are due July 31. Once the final applications are determined to be complete, FERC spokeswoman Celeste Miller said the agency will issue a notice soliciting comments as they start the environmental analysis process. Miller said she said could not speculate on when a final decision will be made.
Central Rivers owns Smith Hydroelectric plant in Berlin and the Gorham Hydroelectric plant, both formerly owned by Public Service of NH. The licenses for both plants expire in 2024. Smith Hydro is a 15-megawatt facility while Gorham is 2.1-megawatts.
Great Lakes Hydro owns Shelburne Hydroelectric, Upper Gorham and Cascade Hydroelectric plants in Gorham, and Cross, Sawmill, and Riverside Hydroelectric plants in Berlin. Riverside’s license to operate does not expire until Dec. 31, 2033, but Great Lakes filed a motion to accelerate its expiration to July 31, 2024, so it can be included with the others. Combined the six facilities total just over 25 megawatts.
The draft reports show the companies are not proposing to add capacity or make any physical modifications.
Still to come are recreation studies that were requested by local officials at the public scoping hearings on the licensing held in the fall of 2019.
David Heidrich, manager of stakeholder relations for Great Lakes, said the pandemic delayed the recreation studies but they are now underway. He said the Kleinschmidt Group is conducting independent studies for both Great Lakes and Central Rivers and each company will file its own report. Heidrick said work on the study is expected to continue through September with the report completed in early 2023.
“The purpose of the recreation study is to better understand the type and volume of use at select recreation sites in the region so that we can better understand their capacity and site-specific needs. This work is accomplished through a variety of means, including taking counts and conducting user surveys with site visitors. Ultimately, the results of the study will help inform whether adjustments may be necessary to ensure that these locations provide adequate recreational opportunities associated with the Androscoggin River, well into the future, for those living in and visiting the Androscoggin River Valley,” Heidrich wrote in an email.
In its draft application, Central Rivers noted that it provides public access to the 10-acre Smith Peninsula Park, located between the penstock and bypassed reach of the Smith project. The park provides some walking trails, picnic tables, benches, landscaping, parking, and restroom facilities as well as scenic overlooks of the mountains, the Dead and Andy Rivers. Central Rivers also provides recreation facilities along the south shore of the Gorham project including a walking trail, a picnic area, a canoe portage, a fishing area downstream of the powerhouse, parking, an information kiosk and a second information kiosk on the north shore.
Great Lakes noted that at least of its hydro-electric sites are not suitable for recreation because of their proximity to the Super Fund site or location in the former mill complex. The corporation said there are informal recreation facilities at some of its sites but they are not provided by Great Lakes.
To read documents on the re-licensing process, go to elibrary at ferc.gov and use the docket numbers P-2422, P-2326 , P-2311 and P-2300.