FERC plans pilot test of new two-year hydro licensing process

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Jan. 6 said it will take offers of interest from developers wanting to offer pilot hydropower projects under the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 signed into law last August by President Obama.

The Act, among other things, directs the commission to investigate the feasibility of a two-year licensing process for hydropower development at non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects, develop criteria for identifying projects that may be appropriate for a two-year process, and by Feb. 5, 2014, develop and implement pilot projects to test a two-year process, if practicable.

The commission held an initial workshop in October 2013 to solicit public comment and recommendations on how to implement a two-year process. Federal and state agencies, hydropower developers, and non-governmental organizations provided input at the workshop, and 16 comment letters have been filed regarding the two-year process.

The Act does not authorize the commission, by itself, to develop and implement pilot projects to test a two-year process, Therefore, the commission is seeking proposals from potential applicants wishing to do so. As a general principle, FERC expects applicants to propose pilot projects that:

  • are located at a non-powered dam or are a closed-loop pumped storage project;
  • have a well-developed project proposal including project facilities and operation;
  • would cause little to no change to environmental resources; and
  • are located in areas where there is substantial existing information on environmental resources and effects.

Prior to requesting the use of a two-year process, prospective applicants should meet with federal and state resource agencies, Indian tribes, non- governmental organizations, and the public regarding the project and potential pilot process proposal, potential project-related environmental effects, the availability of existing information, and the need for studies to supplement existing information. Further, FERC said that prospective applicants should request written comments on the adequacy of available information and the need for studies, including the anticipated scope and duration of the studies.

FERC has identified the following minimum criteria and process for projects that may be appropriate for licensing within a two-year process:

  • The project must cause little to no change to existing surface and groundwater flows and uses;
  • The project must be unlikely to adversely affect federally listed threatened and endangered species;
  • If the project is proposed to be located at or use a federal dam, the request to use the two-year process must include a letter from the dam owner that the applicant’s plan of development is conceptually feasible;
  • If the project would use any public park, recreation area, or wildlife refuge established under state or local law, the request to use the two-year process must include a letter from the managing entity indicating its approval of the site’s use for hydropower development; and
  • For a closed loop pumped storage project, the project must not be continuously connected to a naturally-flowing water feature.

Any prospective applicant that wishes to test a two-year process must file a request to do so by no earlier than Feb. 5, 2014, and no later than May 5, 2014.

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.