Southern urges FERC to define ‘closed loop’ under new hydro law

Without getting into specifics, Southern Co. (NYSE: SO) said in Nov. 20 comments filed at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission that it had been interested in the past in developing pumped storage hydro projects and may again be interested in the future.

Southern was commenting on a bill that passed Congress this year, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, that would potentially allow a two-year licensing process for some conventional (at non-powered dams) and also closed loop pumped storage hydro projects.

Southern noted that the hydro licensing process now can take up to 10 years, though pumped storage projects tend to take less time because there are basically no competing and complicating recreational uses of the impounded waters. Southern attended an Oct. 22 FERC workshop on this new law and said it was encouraged by that discussion.

In recent years, pumped storage hydro has become more attractive, where prior ideas the company had for such projects didn’t work out based on economics at the time, Southern wrote. The company emphasized that it has no current plans for a pumped storage project, but noted that the expedited licensing process would make such a project more attractive.

A key question right now is how FERC in writing the licensing rules under the new law will defined what is “closed loop,” Southern added. It said it is unaware of any existing industry standard or definition for what is a “closed loop” system. Quick work to define this term under the new law will allow developers to make long-term planning decisions now for such projects, Southern said.

Southern said it generally agrees with Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s, R-Alaska, thoughts during the bill passage process on the definition of pumped storage being a system with contained upper and lower water reservoirs that don’t impound or directly draw water from a navigable stream. Murkowksi was a lead co-sponsor of the bill.

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.