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May 21st, 2019

Caught Between A Rock and A Hard Place

Dear Editor:

Morrisville Water and Light (MWL) is one of 2,200 not-for-profit public power utilities in the United States. We serve approximately 4,000 residents and businesses in the Morrisville area. Our goal as a member of the community is to help move Morrisville toward its vision of a vibrant economy, a sustainable future, and an excellent quality of life for all residents.

MWL currently owns and operates three hydroelectric dams. One of these facilities, the Green River Reservoir Dam, sits on the Green River and creates the Green River Reservoir. This dam, and the reservoir itself, are important resources to MWL, the surrounding communities, and the state of Vermont. The dam provides clean and reliable power to the community while the reservoir and State Park surrounding it provide visitors with unparalleled outdoor experiences. With one of the longest stretches of undeveloped shorelines in the state, visitors can enjoy a gorgeous, untouched, and natural piece of Vermont. Additionally, the Green River Reservoir provides immense economic benefit to the state. The Green River State Park is the third most visited in Vermont and draws in nearly $800,000 in revenue from park fees, along with an additional $400,000 from money spent in nearby communities by park visitors.

MWL has long been committed to protecting our environment and providing our customers and community with a sustainable future. In 1999, MWL sold the land that today makes up the 5,503-acre park to the State for below market price. This sale was to ensure the land could be forever preserved and enjoyed by all. We have carefully balanced the needs of the State Park, nesting loons, kayakers, and MWL’s need to generate energy for the past 20 years. The reservoir and the fish in the Green River have thrived under our stewardship. We remain devoted to this special piece of Vermont and recognize the immense benefits it brings to our community and state.

Unfortunately, new Water Quality Certification conditions mandated by the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources in the relicensing process for the dam has put its future at risk. These new requirements would limit the amount of water that MWL is able to draw down at critical times throughout the year, particularly when the spring snow melt raises the water levels in the reservoir. This will result in water spilling over the dam. This is contrary to the purpose and design of the dam (store and release), would compromise the dam’s ability to operate safely, and compromise MWL’s ability to generate power and revenue from the facility. Additionally, as the dam was constructed in the 1940s and hydro facilities were added in the 1980s, significant upgrades are needed if it is to continue to operate as a functional hydroelectric facility.

In addition, the Green River dam is classified as a high hazard dam meaning there is a risk of loss of life and significant property damage if the dam were to fail. MWL is currently liable for the dam and is responsible for maintaining an Emergency Action Plan (EAP), and periodically runs exercises with surrounding communities to be prepared to respond to a failure of the dam, in addition to a number of other tasks associated with our license.

The conditions imposed by ANR, and the required upgrades to the facility put MWL in a very difficult predicament. If we comply with ANR’s new requirements and invest in much-needed upgrades to the dam, MWL will be operating at a significant loss. This would be counter to our mission and would run afoul of our commitment to the residents and ratepayers of the communities we serve.

MWL cannot, in the interest of our customers, operate the Green River Dam at a loss. While we run on a not-for-profit basis, we are funded by the people of Morrisville and the other six surrounding communities in our franchise area, which means that our revenues must be sufficient to cover our costs and ensure the viability of operating the Green River hydro facilities. We have been exploring all available opportunities to address this challenge and it is our hope that we can work collaboratively with the State of Vermont to come to a resolution that allows MWL to operate in the black while also ensuring the preservation of the Reservoir and the park. It is clear that a solution that meets these goals will benefit the residents of our communities and all those who enjoy the beauty of the park.

By Craig Myotte, General Manager, Village Of Morrisville Water & Light

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