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Town's Lakes To Change Hands… Again



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Town’s Lakes To Change Hands… Again

By Kendra Bobowick

Get to know the name Suez Energy International.

FirstLight Power Enterprises Inc, an Energy Capital Partners portfolio company that operates the hydropower plants along the Shepaug and Stevenson Dams separating Lakes Candlewood, Lillinonah, and Zoar, among other power properties, chose sell to Suez after several months of deliberation. Suez and FirstLight announced the signing of an agreement to acquire FirstLight in a press release issued by Suez this week.

Confirming the news Wednesday morning, FirstLight External Affairs Administrator Chuck Burnham explained: “They received an unsolicited bid,” he said. Although that initial bid in past months was not from Suez, it “prompted a process.”

FirstLight began to ask, “What’s the company worth?” he said. Turns out the company was interested in selling the former Northeast Generation property it had purchased in November 2006 for $1.35 billion. Terms and dollar amounts have not been released. The companies will finalize the sale in coming months, Mr Burnham said.

Expressing concerns that are foremost on lakeside property owners’ minds, Land Use Deputy Director Rob Sibley said Wednesday, “I hope for a fervent attitude for all that has been accomplished.” Immediate concerns focus on the amount of work that FirstLight and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) have put into FirstLight’s operating licenses. Highest on this list is the Shoreline Management Plan (SMP), which became a controversial element in the licensing process that was up for renewal in the past two years when FirstLight bought the hydro companies and other properties in Massachusetts and as close as Waterbury. At the center of worries among lake residents were the potential fees for docks, gazebos and other structures along the waterline.

Was the SMP going to cost residents money if FERC accepted the licensing renewal application with the shoreline plan — fees and all? Once residents, town officials, Congressmen, and Attorney General Richard Blumenthal became involved, parties debated for months and the question of imposing registration and property fees is on hold; FERC will make the final decision.

“I hope there are no delays. I hope it’s not a step back,” said Mr Sibley, who had been hoping for future progress to protect the lakes, and shorelines. After the sale, Mr Burnham said, “[FirstLight] will continue under its licensing and new owners will remain under those licenses.” Staff in Hartford and New Milford offices, along with plant personnel will remain, he said.

Also concerned about fees, but primarily keeping an eye on operation practices and lake water levels and environmental impacts, are members of Friends of the Lake (Lillinonah). Friends Executive Committee member Gregory L. Bollard, a stakeholder for the lake, said this week the group is “watching closely” as sales come to a close.

“Any time there is a change it’s human nature to be cautious,” he said. As for the SMP, “It’s a work in progress.”

The federal commission has not provided a decision, which has been stalled by pressure from local groups and arguments from the attorney general’s office. Finances aside, Mr Bollard said, “Our real concern is water levels and the management of resources.” Also included in the SMP are maximum and minimum water operating levels to generate power through the hydro plants.

During the summer, high levels lifted debris, branches, and even large logs off the shore and clogged the water’s surface, angering boaters. Will Suez be an agreeable property owner? Friends of the Lake will have to “wait and see,” Mr Bollard said.

Based on information from a recent press release quoting Zin Smati, the president and CEO of Suez Energy North America, “The FirstLight portfolio offers tremendous scale to Suez Energy’s power generation position in the critical New England market. Of equal importance are the high quality of the employees and the diversity of FirstLight’s assets by generation type and by location as they are within Massachusetts and Connecticut, the two most populous states in the region.”

“This transaction represents a win-win as it is beneficial to FirstLight’s constituents and enhances an already strong business position for GDF Suez in North America,” said Curt Morgan, president and CEO of FirstLight Power Enterprises. “We are very enthusiastic about our business combining with one of the world’s preeminent energy companies.”

Suez Energy North America, Inc manages a range of energy businesses within the United States, Mexico, and Canada, including electricity generation and cogeneration, natural gas and liquefied natural gas (LNG), asset-based trading and origination, and retail energy sales and related services to commercial and industrial customers.

Until sales are final, the Housatonic corridor is still owned by FirstLight. FirstLight Power Enterprises, Inc, an Energy Capital Partners portfolio company, is a premier New England-based power generating company. FirstLight’s assets include the Northfield Mountain pumped-hydro storage facility located in Northfield, Mass.; the coal-fired Mount Tom Station in Holyoke, Mass.; and 13 additional predominantly hydro facilities along the Connecticut, Housatonic, Shetucket and Quinebag Rivers in Connecticut and Massachusetts.

FirstLight is also developing a gas-fired peaking plant in Waterbury, and other power projects to serve Connecticut and Massachusetts. FirstLight has 235 employees.

Suez also owns United Water Connecticut, a United Water Resources subsidiary and water provider for portions of Newtown, including Route 25, and some lengths of Route 302 and Church Hill Road.

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