FERC limits climate change data needed for Alaska hydro project

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on July 18 rejected two requests for rehearing related to a 600 MW-800 MW hydroelectric project in Alaska.

On May 28, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) and the Center for Water Advocacy filed requests for rehearing of the formal study dispute determination issued by the Director of the Office of Energy Projects on
 April 26. That decision was on the proposed 600 MW-800 MW (exact project size is not determined yet) Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project, to be located on the Susitna River in Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska.

NMFS and the Center sought rehearing of the director’s finding that studies proposed by the potential applicant, the Alaska Energy Authority (AEA), and NMFS related to global climate change are unnecessary to conduct the commission’s environmental analysis and therefore will not be required to be conducted by AEA.

In December 2011, AEA filed a notice of intent to file a license application for the proposed Susitna-Watana project, along with a pre-application document. This submittal initiated the pre-filing stage of the commission’s integrated licensing process (ILP).

As part of the ILP, AEA is required to consult with resource agencies, tribes, and other stakeholders to develop plans and subsequently conduct studies that will serve to inform commission staff’s environmental analysis and, ultimately, the commission’s decision on whether and, if so, under what conditions, to issue a license for the project. The studies also provide information to resource agencies as they provide comments and in some cases terms and conditions for inclusion in any license that may be issued for the project.

In May 2012, NMFS filed a request that AEA perform a climate change study. Among other studies, AEA’s plan included proposed Study 7.7, to analyze the potential effects of climate change on glacier wastage and retreat and the corresponding effects on streamflow entering the proposed reservoir, and to evaluate the effects of glacial surges on sediment delivery to the reservoir.

On April 26, the director issued a formal study dispute determination. The director adopted in part a panel’s modification to RSP 7.7, to require that AEA implement its proposed study component related to a review of existing literature relevant to glacial retreat and summarize the understanding of potential future changes in runoff associated with glacier wastage and retreat.

With respect to the other two disputed study components related to modeling predictions, the director explained that he was not aware of any new information or analysis that was presented in NMFS’ notice of study dispute, at the technical conference, or in the panel’s findings to persuade him that the conclusions in the study plan determination should be changed.

On May 28, NMFS and the Center filed requests for rehearing of the study dispute determination.

The commission said it agrees with NMFS that the effects of climate change on streamflow conditions and any corresponding adverse effects on environmental resources are important issues. However, it does not agree that the climate change studies proposed by AEA and requested by NMFS are likely to yield reliable data, particularly when balanced against the cost of such assessments.

“We further agree with the Director that the effects of the project on environmental resources of the project area can be effectively studied and evaluated using conventional hydrologic studies, monitoring techniques, and predictive models, as has been done in other hydroelectric licensing cases (a matter on which the panel failed to make a finding),” the commission said.

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.