FERC rejects rehearing requests from Columbia Basin Hydropower

The members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on April 21 denied a rehearing request from Columbia Basin Hydropower related to a Jan. 15 order from commission staff denying Columbia Basin Hydropower requests for two-year extensions of its preliminary permits for four hydroelectric projects.

The proposed projects are: the PEC 1973 Drop Hydroelectric Project, the Scooteney Inlet Drop Hydroelectric Project, the P.E. 16.4 Wasteway Hydroelectric Project, and the P.E. 46A Wasteway Hydroelectric Project. Each of the projects would be located on a wasteway or irrigation canal within the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation’s Columbia Basin Project in Franklin County, Washington.

On Feb.16, 2016, Columbia Basin filed a timely request for rehearing of the order denying its permit extensions.  

In March 2013, commission staff issued preliminary permits to Columbia Basin to study the feasibility of the four above-named projects. Each project would consist of an intake diversion canal with an intake gate structure, a steel penstock, a powerhouse with a single turbine/generating unit ranging from 1.6 MW to 2.2 MW, and a transmission line.

On Dec. 9, 2015, Columbia Basin filed timely requests for two-year extensions of the four preliminary permits, which were all due to expire on Feb. 29, 2016.  On Dec. 28, 2015, Percheron Power LLC filed an answer and protest in response to Columbia Basin’s extension requests for the PEC 1973 Drop Project and the Scooteney Inlet Drop Project, stating that Columbia Basin did not pursue development of the projects in good faith or with due diligence.

On Jan. 15, commission staff denied Columbia Basin’s requested extensions because its progress reports did not demonstrate sufficient progress toward the preparation of development applications. The order explained that, during the term of its permits, Columbia Basin did not file notices of intent (NOI) and preliminary application documents (PAD) to initiate pre-filing consultation, had not engaged in any resource agency consultation, or made any effort to identify and develop environmental studies needed to prepare development applications. In addition, the order noted that each of the progress reports filed by Columbia Basin was very similar, and mainly discussed the economic feasibility of the projects. The order concluded that Columbia Basin’s lack of diligence under the term of its preliminary permits warranted denying the permit extensions.

Sections 4(f) and 5 of the Federal Power Act (FPA) authorize the commission to issue preliminary permits to potential development applicants for a period up to three years.  In 2013, Congress amended the FPA to provide that a preliminary permit can be extended once for not more than two additional years, if the commission finds that the permittee has carried out activities under the permit in good faith and with reasonable diligence.

Said the April 21 FERC order: “On rehearing, Columbia Basin argues that Commission staff incorrectly applied the standard for granting a permit extension by failing to consider the totality of the record. In particular, Columbia Basin asserts that staff did not appreciate the steps it took during the term of its permits or the ‘innovative,’ ‘non-traditional’ nature of its proposed projects. Columbia Basin also presents, for the first time on rehearing, additional information to show an extension is warranted. 

“After a review of the record, we affirm staff’s finding that Columbia Basin did not pursue its development applications in good faith and with reasonable diligence during the term of its permits so as to warrant extensions of those permits. Columbia Basin’s activities were largely limited to performing market analyses and conducting feasibility studies, both of which are general, initial steps that do not, without more, demonstrate significant progress toward preparing a development application. Columbia Basin’s progress reports and other filings contain virtually no information about preparing a PAD or other development materials. In addition, there is no evidence that Columbia Basin has conducted any environmental studies or consulted with resource agencies, aside from one meeting with Washington State Fish and Wildlife, which was mentioned for the first time in Columbia Basin’s request for rehearing. Moreover, although Columbia Basin terms its projects innovative, they do not appear substantially different from other projects located on conduits or irrigation canals so as to merit the Commission treating these preliminary permit proposals differently or under a more lenient standard than other project proposals.”

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.