FERC rejects appeal of Washington hydro project license term

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in a Sept. 19 decision said it likes to coordinate the expirations of hydroelectric licenses in the same river system and rejected an appeal related to a license in the state of Washington.

On June 13, Public Utility District No. 1 of Douglas County, Wash. (known as the Douglas PUD), the licensee of the 774.25 MW Wells Project No. 2149, filed a request for reconsideration of the commission’s May 16 order on rehearing. The rehearing order addressed, among other issues, Douglas PUD’s request for a 50-year license rather than the 40-year license granted by commission staff in a relicense order issued on Nov. 9, 2012.

Douglas PUD requested reconsideration of the conclusions in the rehearing order that commission staff: reasonably excluded Habitat Conservation Plan costs when it evaluated the extent of measures included in the new license; and did not err by selecting a 40-year license term for the Wells Project. Douglas PUD said these findings are based on erroneous conclusions.

The commission issued an original license for the Wells Project in 1962, and the license expired on May 31, 2012. The project, located in Douglas County, Wash., is one of six on a 200-mile stretch of the Columbia River. These projects are known as the mid-Columbia projects, of which the Wells Project is an integral part. The two upstream-most projects are the federally-owned Grand Coulee and Chief Joseph projects. The four projects downstream of the federal projects are under commission license: Douglas PUD’s Wells Project; Public Utility District No. 1 of Chelan County’s (Chelan PUD) Rocky Reach Project No. 2145; Chelan PUD’s Rock Island Project No. 943; and Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County’s (Grant PUD) Priest Rapids Project No. 2114.

In this case the “determinative factor” in setting the license term is a FERC policy in favor of coordinating license expirations of projects in the same river basin, said FERC’s Sept. 19 ruling.

“Douglas PUD recognizes this yet maintains that the potential for cumulative impacts resulting from the Wells Project is very limited due to high fish survival rates at the project and the project’s location at the upstream terminus of the migration,” FERC noted. “Douglas PUD’s reasoning that resolution of certain past environmental issues predicts there will be no future environmental issues raising cumulative effects concerns is not persuasive. In the context of a 40-year license, it is difficult to predict the nature of environmental issues that might arise during the license term and any future relicense proceeding. The central point here and behind the general policy in favor of coordination among projects in the same river basin is that, whatever issues do arise in the future, the geographical proximity and operationally coordinated nature of the mid-Columbia projects should allow such issues to be analyzed and dealt with in a comprehensive manner at relicensing.”

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.