To help finance a $13 billion merger with a Houston-based pipeline group, TransCanada plans to sell its hydroelectric stations on the Connecticut and Deerfield Rivers, the company announced last week.

The properties include 30,000 acres of land associated with hydro facilities in New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts. Three storage-only reservoirs are also part of the holdings.

TransCanada in 2005 purchased the 13 dams with 560 megawatts of capacity for $505 million from the bankrupt USGen New England.

TransCanada awaits shareholder approval to acquire Columbia Pipeline Group, with its 15,000 mile network of pipeline and storage assets, to create a 57,000-mile system and $23 billion natural gas transmission portfolio.

"At the same time, we will be well positioned to transport North America's abundant natural gas supply to liquefied natural gas terminals for export to international markets," said TransCanada president and CEO Russ Girling in a March 17 news release.

Proceeds from the sale of its northeast power generation assets, which include the dams, will help comprise the required funding for the Columbia merger, said TransCanada.

The five stations in Massachusetts are all on the Deerfield River. They are the Sherman Dam at Rowe and Monroe, a dam at Rowe and Florida; two in Buckland and Shelburne, and one dam at Conway and Shelburne. Vermont stations in the Deerfield basin are at Searsburg and the Harriman Reservoir.

The Connecticut River dams spanning Vermont and New Hampshire are at Vernon, Bellows Falls, Wilder, McIndoes, Comerford, and Moore Stations. The dam at Vernon has been in service since 1909.

The dam's owner, under its federal license, is responsible for raising and lowering water levels for energy production. There are requirements under a 40-year pact signed in 1994 for the dam owners to accommodate conservation and recreation, including whitewater paddling.

TransCanada's federal licenses for the Vernon, Bellows Falls and Wilder dams are set to expire in April 2019, and a relicensing process is underway before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Also up for renewal are hydro facilities on the Connecticut River in Massachusetts —€” Turners Falls Dam and the Northfield Mountain Pumped Storage Project, both owned by FirstLight Power, a subsidiary of GDF Suez.

The Connecticut River Watershed Council is participating in the federal relicensing proceedings, saying "private hydropower operators must provide direct benefits to the public and the river, including recreational facilities, better fish passage and reducing damage to healthy river habitats."

The licenses issued by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission are good for 30-50 years and "lock-in minimum flow requirements, impoundment levels, fish passage and operating regimes for generations to come," according to the non-profit river advocacy group.

TransCanada is a large taxpayer in its host communities, reports the New Hampshire-based Valley News. West Lebanon, New Hampshire assesses its dam property at $44.9 million, and Hartford, Vermont values its portion at $32.4 million. The Vernon, Vermont dam is assessed at $30.5 million and the dam in Rockingham, New Hampshire is valued at $108 million.

In addition, a January superior court decision settled a lawsuit between TransCanada and Newbury, Vermont, by establishing a value of $1.53 million for flowage easements on 1,860 acres that may be subject to flooding when water levels rise.

TransCanada proposed the Keystone XL Pipeline, which would carry crude oil from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska. The U.S. State Department rejected the proposal in November, and TransCanada has appealed the decision.

By Mary Serreze | Special to The Republican

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