FERC has no objection to House bills to extend five hydro project licenses

The National Hydropower Association supports five bills now pending in the U.S. House of Representatives that would allow the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to go beyond statutory mandates and extend license deadlines for small hydro projects.

On Feb. 2, 2016, the Subcommittee on Energy & Power of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing entitled “A Legislative Hearing on Eight Energy Infrastructure Bills.” Five of those bills were on five different hydro projects. Jeffrey Leahey, Deputy Executive Director of the National Hydropower Association (NHA), said in Feb. 2 testimony that the bills include: H.R. 2080, 2081, 3447, as well as two bills yet not filed.

NHA represents more than 220 companies, from Fortune 500 corporations to family-owned small businesses. Leahey point out that currently, the U.S. hydropower fleet is made up of almost 2,200 individual plants with a total capacity of approximately 80 GW. These plants provide roughly 7% of all U.S. electricity generation and close to half of all renewable electricity generation – making hydropower the single largest provider of renewable electric power in the country. These figures do not include the additional 42 hydropower pumped storage plants with approximately 22 GW of capacity – projects that make-up almost all (97%) of utility-scale energy storage in the U.S. today.

He noted that the five hydropower projects covered by the bills range in capacity from 4 MW to 15 MW:

  • W. Kerr Scott project (North Carolina) – 4 MW;
  • Clark Canyon hydroelectric project (Montana) – 4.7 MW;
  • Cannonsville Dam project (New York) – 14 MW;
  • Jennings Randolph Dam project (Maryland) – 14 MW; and
  • Gibson Dam hydroelectric project (Montana) – 15 MW.

Leahey wrote in his prepared testimony: “NHA notes that the House of Representatives has passed legislation (the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act, H.R. 8) and the Senate is currently debating a bill (the Energy Policy Modernization Act, S. 2012) that contain bipartisan provisions to address regulatory inefficiencies and to improve coordination in the overall hydropower approval process. In addition, the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 also provided direction to the Corps of Engineers to make the development of non-Federal hydroelectric power at Corps civil works projects a priority and requiring Corps permitting be completed in a timely and consistent manner. Finally, S.2012 specifically aims to address the issue at hand for these hydropower projects before the Subcommittee today, containing a provision that provides for an applicant to receive an extension of the commence construction deadline for up to an additional 8 years. This would alleviate the need for individual project developers to get these congressionally-approved extensions. NHA strongly supports all these efforts.”

FERC is generally okay with extensions up to 10 years

Ann Miles, the Director of the Office of Energy Projects at FERC, said in her Feb. 2 testimony: “The last several Commission Chairmen, as well as the current Chairman, have taken the position of not opposing legislation that would extend the commencement of construction deadline no further than 10 years from the date that the license in question was issued. Where proposed extensions would run beyond that time, there has been a sense that the public interest is served by releasing the site for other purposes. Because each of these bills provides for commencement of construction deadlines that do not exceed 10 years from the dates the respective licenses were issued, I do not oppose these bills. I note that all bills except for H.R. 2081 contain a reinstatement provision should the period required for commencement of construction expire prior to enactment of the Act. Congress may want to consider including a reinstatement provision in H.R. 2081.”

These bills are:

  • H.R. 2080 – In 2009, the commission issued an original license for Clark Canyon Hydro LLC’s proposed 4.7-MW Clark Canyon Dam Hydroelectric Project, to be located at the U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation’s Clark Canyon Dam on the Beaverhead River in Beaverhead County, Montana. The license required the company to commence project construction within two years of the issuance date of the license, or by August 2011. At the licensee’s request, the commission granted the one tw0-year extension of the commencement of construction deadline allowed, thus making the deadline in August 2013. The licensee did not commence construction by that date and the commission terminated the license in March 2015. The commission explained that the licensee could file a new license application and that commission staff would work with the licensee to determine whether portions of the Commission’s regulations could be waived to make the new license proceeding as expeditious as possible. H.R. 2080 would require the Commission to reinstate the license for the Clark Canyon Dam Project and extend the commencement of construction deadline for the project for a three-year period beginning on the date of enactment of this Act.
  • H.R. 2081 – In January 2012, the commission issued an original license for Gibson Dam Hydroelectric Co. LLC’s proposed 15-MW Gibson Dam Hydroelectric Project, to be located at the Bureau of Reclamation’s Gibson Dam, on the Sun River, in Lewis and Clark County and Teton County, Montana. The license required the company to commence project construction within two years of the date of the license, or by January 2014. At the licensee’s request, the commission granted the maximum allowable two-year extension, thus making the deadline Jan. 12, 2016. “It is my understanding that the licensee is encountering difficulty obtaining lands, subject to a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conservation easement, which are needed for construction of the project’s primary transmission line,” Miles noted. H.R. 2081 would authorize the commission to extend, for six years, the commencement of construction deadline for the Gibson Dam Project. The extension would begin on the date of expiration of the Commission’s latest extension order.
  • H.R. 3447 – In July 2012, the commission issued an original license for Wilkesboro Hydroelectric Co. LLC’s proposed 4-MW Kerr Scott Hydroelectric Project, to be located at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ W. Kerr Scott Dam and Reservoir, on the Yadkin River, in Wilkes County, North Carolina. The license required the company to commence project construction within two years of the issuance date of the license, or by July 2014. At the licensee’s request, the commission granted the maximum allowable two-year extension of the commencement of construction deadline, thus making the deadline July 2016. In June 2015, the licensee filed an application to amend the project license consistent with the results of its design consultation with the Corps. “My staff is currently processing the application,” Miles wrote. H.R. 3447 would authorize the commission to extend, for up to three consecutive two-year periods, the commencement of construction deadline for the W. Kerr Scott Project. The extension would begin on the date of expiration of the commission’s latest extension order.
  • Unnumbered Bill Regarding Jennings Randolph Project – In April 2012, the commission issued an original license for Fairlawn Hydroelectric Co. LLC’s proposed 14-MW Jennings Randolph Hydroelectric Project, to be located on the Corp’s Jennings Randolph Dam and Lake, on the North Branch Potomac River in Garrett County, Maryland, and Mineral County, West Virginia. The license required the company to commence project construction within two years of the issuance date of the license, or by April 2014. At the licensee’s request, the commission granted the maximum allowable two-year extension of the commencement of construction deadline, thus making the deadline in April 2016. “I understand that the licensee is working with the Corps to obtain construction authorization under section 14 the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899,” said Miles. This bill would authorize the commission to extend, for up to three consecutive two-year periods, the commencement of construction deadline for the Jennings Randolph Project. The extension would begin on the date of expiration of the commission’s latest extension order.
  • Unnumbered Bill Regarding Cannonsville Project – In May 2014, the commission issued an original license for the City of New York’s proposed 14.08-MW Cannonsville Hydroelectric Project, to be located on the city’s existing Cannonsville Reservoir, on the West Branch of the Delaware River in Delaware County, New York.. The license required the company to commence project construction within two years of the issuance date of the license, or by May 2016. “There have been dam safety issues at the project site and I understand that the licensee seeks additional time to conduct engineering dam safety studies and develop a new design to safely construct the project,” said Miles. This bill would authorize the commission to extend, for up to four consecutive two-year periods, the commencement of construction deadline for the Cannonsville Project. The extension would begin on the date of expiration of the time period required for commencement of construction as prescribed in the license.
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.