The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on July 11 rejected a May 2 application from Soule Hydro LLC for a third preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the 77-MW Soule River Hydroelectric Project in Alaska.
The proposed project would be located on the Soule River near Hyder within the Ketchikan Recording District in Alaska, and on U.S. Forest Service land within the Tongass National Forest.
The proposed project would consist of: two dams; a storage reservoir; a conduit tunnel; a powerhouse with three turbines with a total installed capacity of 77 MW; and a 138-kV transmission line consisting of 10 miles of buried line across the Portland Canal and 2.5 miles of overhead line to the point of interconnection at the existing BC Hydro substation near Stewart. The estimated annual generation of the project would be 200 gigawatt-hours.
In 2009, the commission issued Soule Hydro a three-year preliminary permit for the Soule River Project that expired in August 2012. In May 2013, the commission issued Soule Hydro a successive three-year preliminary permit that expired on April 30, 2016. In granting the successive permit, commission staff considered Soule Hydro’s progress toward filing a license application.
The Federal Power Act does not specify how many preliminary permits an applicant may receive for the same site. However, the commission rarely issues a third consecutive preliminary permit to the same applicant, for the same site, unless some extraordinary circumstance or factor outside the control of the permitee is present.
Soule Hydro argued that it has been unable to file a development application because the Forest Service is still in the process of amending the Tongass Land Management Plan (Tongass LMP), to allow for the development of the project despite its presence in a Remote Recreational Land Use Designation (Remote Recreation) area. In November 2015, the Forest Service issued a draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Tongass LMP amendment with a 90-day comment period, which ended in February 2016. Soule Hydro said the amendment process is not anticipated to be complete until December 2016, but could stretch into 2017, if a supplemental EIS is needed.
Said the July 11 FERC ruling: “The indefinite nature of the Tongass LMP amendment schedule is not an extraordinary circumstance that justifies issuing a third preliminary permit to Soule Hydro. This is particularly true given that Soule Hydro indicated five years ago, prior to receiving its second permit, that an amendment to the Tongass LMP would be necessary for it to pursue development of the project. In a June 3, 2011 letter to the Forest Service, Soule Hydro concluded that an amendment to the Tongass LMP was necessary for the site to be successfully developed. The fact that a permittee seeks to pursue a project that it believes is inconsistent with an existing land management plan does not mean that it can maintain permit priority over that site until such time, if ever, that the inconsistency is resolved by an amendment to the plan.”