FERC denies rehearing on pumped storage power project in Utah

The full commission at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Dec. 20 denied a rehearing request from environmental groups on FERC’s decision to approve a preliminary step for an 800-MW pumped storage hydroelectric project in Utah.

On Oct. 24, Canyonlands Watershed Council, Grand Canyon Trust and Living Rivers-Colorado Riverkeeper filed a joint request for rehearing of commission staff’s Sept. 24 order issuing a preliminary permit to Utah Independent Power Inc. (Independent Power) to study the feasibility of the Long Canyon Pumped Storage Project. The project would be located near the town of Moab, Grand County, Utah, and it would use water from the Colorado River.

On Jan. 23, Independent Power filed an application for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the proposed pumped storage project. The project would consist of the following new facilities:

  • a 160-foot-high by 6,750-foot-long dam creating an upper reservoir;
  • a 200-foot-high by 730-foot-long dam creating a lower reservoir with a total storage capacity of 5,530 acre feet;
  • two 8,510-foot-long by 16-foot-wide penstocks;
  • an underground powerhouse;
  • two tailraces;
  • a 36-foot diameter access tunnel;
  • three pump-turbines with a total installed capacity of roughly 800 MW; and
  • two 40-mile-long transmission lines.

The estimated annual generation would be 1,077 gigawatt-hours. The proposed project would be on lands managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) under its Moab Resource Management Plan (BLM Resource Plan), which provides a framework for managing these public lands and allocating resources for multiple uses, including, but not limited to, recreation, grazing, vegetation, fish and wildlife, cultural resources, and fire management.

Opponents say this project not allowed within existing resource plan

Petitioners argued before the commission staff approval that, among other things, the BLM Resource Plan does not identify the lands the project would occupy as available for disposal by BLM through sale or exchange, and therefore commission staff should deny the preliminary permit because Independent Power would never be able to obtain a license.

Commission staff explained in its Sept. 24 order said that allegations regarding inconsistency of the proposed project with the BLM Resource Plan are premature because the permit does not authorize Independent Power to undertake construction of the proposed project. Rather, a permit enables Independent Power to study the feasibility of such a project.

On rehearing, petitioners claimed that Independent Power’s preliminary permit application should be denied because there is a legal bar that would prevent the commission from issuing a license for the project and because no license will result from the preliminary permit. They argued that the BLM Resource Plan prevents issuance of a license for the project because it: prohibits surface-disturbing activities for the lands the project would occupy; categorizes the lands the project would occupy as an Area of Critical Environmental Concern, which means that these lands require special attention by BLM to protect irreparable damage to their important resources5 and are not currently available for disposal by BLM through sale or exchange; and prohibits the issuance of a right-of-way for the project’s proposed transmission lines. Further, petitioners note that Interior’s comment letter stated that the “project proposed for Long Canyon would not be in conformance with the [BLM Resource Plan].”

The purpose of a preliminary permit is to maintain priority of application for a license during the term of the permit while the permittee conducts investigations and secures data necessary to determine the feasibility of the proposed project, the commission noted. If the project is found to be feasible, prepares an acceptable development application.

“We find no basis for concluding that Independent Power’s preliminary permit for a project is precluded by law or that Independent Power may not eventually receive a license,” the commission added. “No federal law bars development of Independent Power’s proposed project. The proposed project’s apparent inconsistency with the BLM Resource Plan, although clearly relevant in a license application proceeding, does not constitute a permanent legal bar, and it does not foreclose Independent Power from potentially receiving a license. Independent Power’s proposed project may currently conflict with BLM’s Resource Plan, but project proposals at the permit stage are fluid and any eventual application for license submitted by Independent Power may differ in important aspects from the proposal set forth in its permit application.”

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.