Morrisville Water & Light has filed another legal appeal of state-imposed rules that threaten the future of Green River Reservoir.
The small utility is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to rule that the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources lost its right to impose new operating standards for Morrisville’s two hydroelectric dams on the Lamoille River and a third that creates the Green River Reservoir.
The appeal was filed June 1, said Penny Jones, general manager at Morrisville Water & Light.
“The biggest thing we’re hoping to accomplish is being able to run Green River the way we’ve always run Green River,” Jones said. If it has to alter its practices to align with state demands, then the dam becomes unprofitable and possibly unsafe, according to utility staff. Removal of the dam would drain the reservoir, one of the most pristine experiences in Vermont’s state park system.
Morrisville’s petition claims the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources waived its right to impose new standards on Morrisville’s dams because it waited too long. Typically, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission allows state agencies to weigh in on how dams are operated and rubber-stamps that decision as part of the rare relicensing every few decades.
Morrisville says the state did not respond within a year to Morrisville’s 2014 request for a water quality certificate — that’s the document that lays out those new operating standards — and thus waived its right to impose new rules.
Instead, the state order came two and a half years after Morrisville’s initial filing.
Morrisville wants to continue drawing down the reservoir’s depth by several feet every winter.
Those drawdowns create the bulk of the electricity made at that dam every year and help make room for spring runoff.
The state Agency of Natural Resources wanted to limit the winter drawdowns to just 18 inches to cut back on the amount of the reservoir bottom exposed to sub-freezing temperatures. If the federal commission sides with Morrisville, “that allows us to maintain the profitability of the dam.”
“It keeps our renewable energy in place, our profitability, and residents of Vermont and visitors can come to Green River and enjoy it the way its always been enjoyed,” Jones said.
This dispute has gone on for years.
In September 2018, Judge Thomas Walsh ruled against Morrisville’s drawdowns in Vermont Environmental Court.
But several parties appealed to the Vermont Supreme Court, where the portion of Walsh’s ruling pertaining to the Lamoille River dams was overturned in November 2019. The case was remanded to environmental court, but Morrisville’s legal team petitioned for a motion to stay the proceedings until after the petition to FERC has been ruled on.
Wait and see
A 30-day comment period began after Morrisville filed its petition with the federal commission. Jones said she expects that the state Agency of Natural Resources will submit comments, but others could, as well.
She believes Morrisville will have the opportunity to respond to those comments and the federal commission could issue its order by the end of the summer.
“The order would uphold or deny our petition,” Jones said. “We’re very hopeful that if FERC agrees with us, we will be able to maintain Green River, we can save the dam and the state park,” Jones said.
“I’m hopeful,” she said. “But, I’ve been hopeful before.”