FERC rejects permit app for 455-MW Umatilla hydro project

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issued a June 2 order saying that it lacks jurisdiction to issue a preliminary permit or a license to Rivertec Partners LLC for the Umatilla Hydroelectric Project at the John Day Dam and accordingly dismisses Rivertec’s application for a preliminary permit.

On March 14, Rivertec applied for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of constructing a hydroelectric project at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ John Day Dam on the Columbia River in Klickitat County, Washington, and Sherman County, Oregon. On March 18, Rivertec filed an addendum to the application, arguing that the commission retains jurisdiction to issue a preliminary permit for the site.

The Corps’ John Day Dam is a 7,400-foot-long, 184-foot-high concrete gravity dam with an integrated powerhouse. The powerhouse contains 20 turbine-generator bays. The Corps currently has generator units in 16 of the bays, with a total installed capacity of 2,160 MW.

Rivertec proposed to:

  • install three 135-MW and one 50-MW turbine-generator units in the four vacant bays;
  • install four step-up transformers on the powerhouse roof;
  • construct an approximately 4-mile-long, 500-kV transmission line to the existing John Day Dam switchyard; and
  • expand the existing John Day Dam switchyard to accommodate the increased generation.

The estimated annual generation of the project would be 3,000 gigawatt-hours.

A preliminary permit application for a project with an identical configuration to Rivertec’s project was filed by Advanced Hydropower Inc. in December 2013. In that proceeding, commission staff concluded that the commission lacked authority to issue a permit or license for the development of hydropower at the site based on the authorizing statute for the John Day Dam. The Corps stated in that case that it has the exclusive right to expand the powerhouse’s production to reach its fully authorized capacity, should future needs require and flow volumes allow. In May 2014, commission staff dismissed Advanced Hydro’s preliminary permit application.

In its March 8, 2016, addendum, Rivertec argued that the commission’s and the Corps’ jurisdictional determination for the John Day Dam is incorrect and that the commission retains jurisdiction over hydropower development at the site. Rivertec argued that the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1950 and the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014 both provide authority for the commission to authorize non-federal hydropower at the John Day Dam.

Rivertec argued that because there has been no additional hydroelectric development at the dam since 1971, “it is clear that the [Corps] has in fact completed power development substantially in accordance with [its authorization].” However, said FERC, the fact that the Corps’ has not yet developed the vacant bays does not mean that the commission has the authority to do so.

Rivertec noted that the commission previously issued a preliminary permit to Umatilla Energy Partners LLC for a project at a Corps facility within the John Day Lock and Dam Project. But, the June 2 FERC order said: “However, Umatilla Energy’s proposal was for a project on the John Day Juvenile Fish Sampling and Monitoring Facility (Facility). As the Corps has recently explained in a separate proceeding with Rivertec, the Facility was authorized separately from the dam and powerhouse, and power development at the Facility was not reserved exclusively to the Corps.”

Lastly, Rivertec argued that it should be granted a preliminary permit pursuant to the Water Resources Reform and Development Act of 2014. Among other things, the act declares that the Corps shall make non-federal development at its facilities a priority and shall process such proposals in a timely and consistent manner. “However,” said FERC, “the act does not expand the Commission’s (or the Corps’) jurisdiction at Corps facilities and, thus, does not change the fact that the Commission lacks authority to issue a permit or license for power development at the vacant bays at the John Day Dam.

Any party may file a request for rehearing of this June 2 rejection order within 30 days of the date of its issuance.

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.