Advancing New England’s Clean Energy Future
In this time of uncertainty, during a global pandemic, organizations must find a way to be competitive, be safe, and be there for their communities. FirstLight Power, Inc. (FirstLight), a clean energy and energy storage provider in New England, offers a shining example of how to continue vital operations and help the community at the same time. The renewable energy provider operates hydroelectric, energy storage, and solar generating facilities to produce clean, reliable electricity to power more than 1.3 million homes across New England. Though some have been operating for more than 100 years, FirstLight’s assets are still contributing towards a cleaner, more sustainable energy future. The company is also steward to more than 14,000 acres of beautiful land, lakes and rivers, and miles of shoreline in Connecticut and Massachusetts that are enjoyed year-round by visitors looking to camp, hike, fish, cross-country ski or generally enjoy nature.
“Our principal motivation as a business is to provide reliable, sustainable and environmentally beneficial energy solutions to the communities we serve,” explains FirstLight’s Chief Financial Officer, Sidd Manjeshwar. Sidd joined the company in early 2018, with the mandate of assisting FirstLight in transitioning into a standalone growth entity following its divestment from multinational electric utility company ENGIE in 2016.
“In the months following my arrival, we ushered the company through both an operational and legal restructuring, giving FirstLight greater strategic, operational and financial flexibility,” Sidd continues. “Last year, we followed this by implementing a strong, flexible capital structure, during which time we raised the largest ever private placement bond financing for a single asset in the US market. We had about 20 different investors involved in this transaction, 11 of whom were completely new capital to this sector, which is a significant number in today’s market, and have also established a new holding company level revolving credit facility in partnership with several new relationship banks.”
Today, FirstLight operates 11 hydroelectric generating facilities along the Connecticut, Housatonic, Shetucket, Still, and Quinebaug Rivers – collectively producing more than 200 megawatts of power – as well as an 18,000-panel solar farm in Northfield, MA. The company also operates two pumped hydro storage facilities in western New England along with lithium-ion battery storage resources at two separate universities in Massachusetts. Northfield Mountain Pumped Hydro Station, the largest pumped storage asset in New England, constitutes 64% of the total energy storage capacity in all of New England. Overall, the company’s portfolio includes more than 1,400MW of clean energy generation and energy storage capacity.
“Our assets are invaluable in terms of helping meet New England’s clean energy goals, they are critical for grid reliability and fuel security, but also enhance the seamless integration of new renewables into the grid,” Sidd states. “Pumped storage assets in particular are real feats of engineering that are seldom built these days. The same can be said of run-of-river facilities, which are only really economically viable today if they have long-term power offtake contracts supporting them. From that perspective, assets such as FirstLight’s are highly unique and critical pieces of infrastructure, and we invest a considerable amount of capital each year in maintaining them so as to safeguard their longevity.”
As FirstLight’s Vice President of Operations Justin Trudell emphasizes; “despite the challenging energy markets and accompanying cost controlling measures over the last several years, the FirstLight operations group has continued to deliver above target unit reliability, ensuring our generating assets are available for grid reliability when called upon.”
In addition to providing clean energy, FirstLight strives to maintain a strong commitment to social responsibility, and has a long history of giving back to the community. The company provides high value jobs to locals and contributes millions of dollars in property taxes each year. It has also given more than $1 million to local community organizations in the past several years alone. Its competitive grants provide opportunities for projects associated with FirstLight’s host communities and have funded dozens of different projects relating to environmental stewardship, public health and safety, and education. Recent awards include environmentally oriented school programs, rescue boats and equipment for local emergency service departments, river management programs, the development of several new parks, and most recently support for local food pantries during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Back in March 2020, with Covid-19 spreading across the eastern United States, FirstLight moved quickly to announce the temporary closure of its public recreation areas in Massachusetts and Connecticut in order to ensure the safety of members of the community and its own workforce. From a company-wide perspective, all non-essential personnel switched to remote working from home, while those working at its power facilities – and thus deemed essential staff – continued to safely operate to keep clean, renewable power being delivered to New England’s power grid.
“The safety of our people and our communities has always been a priority to FirstLight, and from the earliest stages of the pandemic we implemented a number of new policies designed to increase protections for our people, while maintaining our ability to provide clean electricity. We are thankful for all their commitment, hard work and resiliency during these challenging times,” Sidd enthuses. “We have consistently ensured we are complying with all of the relevant guidance provided by state and federal public health authorities regarding workplace hygiene and cleaning practices, social distancing, and health monitoring. We have also used flexible work schedules to reduce sequestered staff levels at various assets in order to mitigate the exposure of people to one another wherever possible.”
The global supply chain disruptions caused by Covid-19 have forced the company to manage procurement vendor relationships to secure the supplies needed to keep their equipment running, supplies that included personal protective equipment (PPE). In spite of this challenge, in response to a call for donations of PPE for front-line responders, FirstLight donated its existing supply of N95 masks to a regional healthcare facility. “We’re grateful to the FirstLight employees who identified that we had a supply of N95 protective masks and that we could respond to the state’s call to support and protect our front-line healthcare workers,” said FirstLight’s Director of Government Affairs and Communications Len Greene.
There is little doubt that the FirstLight team has accomplished a great deal over the last two years in particular. “I am honoured to be a part of the FirstLight team and proud of everything it has accomplished. In addition to our previous mentioned internal efforts, we have also undergone a successful rebranding of the company, implemented several cost saving operational improvements and efficiencies, continued to improve on our culture of operational excellence and innovation, successfully entered a new line of business with our first acquisition and integration of the largest portfolio of behind-the-meter battery storage assets in Massachusetts, and safe guarded our company’s health, safety and risk management during this pandemic,” Sidd details. “FirstLight has also undergone something of a digital transformation in recent times, investing capital into our IT infrastructure, cyber security, and migrating over to an entirely new cloud-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) system. Not only have the above
investments allowed the company to seamlessly transition to remote working in the months since the Covid-19 pandemic hit, but they also place it in a position to deliver future scalability and synergistic value creation.
“On that subject, our intention as a business, is to continue to expand our renewable and energy storage footprint in competitive power markets to facilitate the transition to a clean energy future. We remain a highly efficient, lean company, and the strong scalable infrastructure that we have built up over time gives us a competitive advantage. Most importantly, we have a fantastic team spread out across all of our assets which is capable of doing wonderful things for all our stakeholders!”
FirstLight Power, Inc.
Services: Hydroelectric, energy storage and solar projects