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HG&E Celebrates 20 Years of Municipal Hydroelectric Power

December 14, 2021:

In 1902, Holyoke Gas & Electric (HG&E) was established through the purchase of a gas and electric plant from the Holyoke Water Power Company (HWP). The innovative city leaders and citizens of Holyoke saw ownership of a municipal utility as a way to stabilize rates and keep local control over their energy services. Almost 100 years later, on December 14, 2001, HG&E’s leadership seized an opportunity to establish local control over Holyoke’s renewable hydroelectric resources.

In 1999, Holyoke Water Power (HWP), a Northeast Utility Company and owner of Holyoke’s hydroelectric facilities, was in the process of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) relicensing for assets along the Connecticut River and within the Holyoke Canal System. At the time of this relicensing, there were several legal and legislative matters occurring in the investor owned utility and local municipal utility space, most notably the federal deregulation of electric markets, which forced investor owned utilities to disassemble monopolies and sell or move generation assets. After years of negotiation between HG&E and HWP, HG&E closed on a deal to purchase the Holyoke Dam and canal system, which has provided additional local control over utility rates and services within the city. Today, electrical output from the local hydro system provides approximately two thirds of Holyoke’s annual electricity use. 

Since 2001, HG&E has made significant improvements the hydroelectric assets and associated facilities, balancing hydroelectric generation with protecting valuable natural, cultural, and scenic resources and providing public recreation facilities. In addition to operating a source of carbon-free electric generation and conducting various environmental studies, HG&E has made the following enhancements since its acquisition of the system:

  • Refurbishment and upgrade of 12 units (50% of HG&E’s portfolio) hydro units throughout the system which increase capacity from 43.8 to 50.51 MW (6.7 MW increase).
  • The conversion of Hadley Falls operations from Peaking to Run-of-River, which protects upstream habitat by minimizing water level fluctuations.
  • The installation of inflatable rubber dam to minimize fluctuations for run of river operations, to improve water quality, fisheries and aquatic resource issues
  • The installation of a full-depth louver fish exclusion system and bypass at the entrance of the Canal System in order to enhance the safe downstream passage of migrating fish.
  • The installation of a weir in the First Level Canal for the protection of an endangered mussel species during periods when the canal system is drained for maintenance purposes.
  • Major modifications to the Fishway in order to improve upstream and downstream fish over the migration.
  • Implemented measures to address threatened and endangered species, shoreline erosion, and environmental monitoring, recreation and land management.
  • Opened the Robert E. Barrett Fishway Visitor Center in order to increase and improve educational programming.

In 2006, HG&E received the Outstanding Stewards of America's Waters (OSAW) award from the National Hydropower association. HG&E was recognized for extremely successful habitat enhancements related to the bald eagle population within the project area. The OSAW awards annually recognize deserving organizations in the hydropower industry for projects that exhibit exemplary operational, educational, historical, recreational, or environmental enhancement and stewardship.eagles 

 Due to these resources, as well as HG&E’s diverse power supply portfolio, in 2021 Holyoke’s electric load was approximately 82% carbon-free. Over the years, HG&E has received several awards and designations that can be attributed to innovative and sustainable energy solutions, including:

  • 2021 Utility Transformation Leaderboard from the Smart Electric Power Alliance
  • Smart Energy Provider from the American Public Power Association
  • Reliable Public Power Provider from the American Public Power Association
  • Certificate of Excellence in Reliability from the American Public Power Association
  • Smart Electric Power Alliance ranked HG&E third nationally in energy storage per capita
  • The Ira W. Leighton, Jr. Outstanding Innovative Technology Award from Environmental Business Council of New England for Mount Tom Solar & Energy Storage System
  • Energy Manager Today Project of the Year for Mount Tom Solar & Energy Storage System
  • Safety Achievement Award from the American Gas Association

Looking back on 20 years of ownership and operation of Holyoke’s hydroelectric resources, HG&E is thankful to the Commission, city officials, and the community for supporting ongoing investments in Holyoke’s hydroelectric infrastructure, environmental enhancements, and educational programming. HG&E will continue to provide competitive rates, innovative and sustainable energy solutions, reliable service, and excellent customer care.

Learn more about HG&E hydro operations and green initiatives

 

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