FERC rejects requests related to 1,200-MW hydro projects in Washington

Saying once again that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission can’t issue a preliminary permit for a hydroelectric project on a toxic waste site, the members of the commission on April 21 denied rehearing requets from two competing developers for that site.

On Dec. 23, 2015, commission staff dismissed preliminary permit applications for Public Utility District No. 1 of Klickitat County, Washington’s proposed JD Pool Pumped Storage Project, and Clean Power Development LLC’s proposed Columbia Gorge Renewable Energy Balancing Project. Both proposed projects would be located near the city of Goldendale in Klickitat County, Washington.

In 2009, commission staff issued Klickitat PUD its first preliminary permit for the JD Pool Project, which expired in April 2012. Klickitat PUD received a successive (i.e., second) preliminary permit for the project in November 2012. The successive permit expired on Oct. 31, 2015, and on Nov. 3, 2015, Klickitat PUD applied for a second successive (i.e., third) preliminary permit. Also on Nov. 3, 2015, Clean Power filed a preliminary permit application for its Columbia Gorge Project, which was in competition with Klickitat PUD’s application for its JD Pool Project.

Both the JD Pool Project and the Columbia Gorge Project would be 1,200-MW closed-loop pumped storage hydroelectric projects located near the Army Corps of Engineers’ John Day Lock and Dam within the Columbia River Basin.  The lower reservoir for both projects would be at the site of the former Columbia Gorge Aluminum smelter, and would initially be filled with water from the Columbia River using an existing submerged pumping station and conveyance pipeline.  

The site of the former aluminum smelter is now a Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) contaminated site, and is presently undergoing a cleanup process due to decades of contamination.  Smelter operations contaminated the soil and groundwater at the site with fluoride, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, cyanide, and polychlorinated biphenyls. The Washington Department of Ecology (Washington DOE) is currently working with the National Smelter Co. and the Lockheed Martin Corp., which have both been deemed responsible parties, on the assessment and cleanup of the site.

In the December decision, commission taff found that, given the speculative nature of the cleanup timeline and the uncertainty regarding the site’s future suitability for development, it would not be prudent to issue a permit for the site at this time.  In any event, as to Klickitat PUD’s third permit application, the order also stated that Klickitat PUD had failed to demonstrate any extraordinary circumstance or factor outside of its control that would warrant staff issuing Klickitat PUD a third preliminary permit for the site.

Clean Power filed a request for rehearing, arguing that there is a realistic schedule in place for cleanup at the site, and that commission staff did not articulate a rational basis for denying Clean Power’s application despite having issued two preliminary permits to Klickitat PUD for the site in the past. Klickitat PUD’s rehearing request reiterated its earlier arguments about extraordinary circumstances and adopting the arguments made in Clean Power’s rehearing request.

Said the April 21 FERC order: “We find, as a matter of policy, it is not prudent to issue a preliminary permit for a contaminated site that is still undergoing a cleanup process, regardless of whether that site is a RCRA site or a Superfund site. The Commission will only consider applications for such sites once the relevant state or federal agency, in this case Washington DOE, certifies that cleanup is complete. The information provided by Clean Power indicates that a draft cleanup action plan is not due to the state until August 2018, and that subsequent steps in the process will take 2 to 3 years. Accordingly, it would not be appropriate to file an application until, at the earliest, August 2020.”

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.