FERC members reject Rivertec arguments over Montana hydro project

The members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Nov. 17 rejected a rehearing request related to a July 1 decision by FERC staff that dismissed Rivertec Partners LLC’s application for a preliminary permit for the proposed Lincoln Hydroelectric Project.

The proposed project would be at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Libby Dam, located at Lake Koocanusa on the Kootenai River in Lincoln County, Montana. On July 22, Rivertec filed a timely request for rehearing of the July 1 staff order.

On April 12, Rivertec filed the application for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the Lincoln Project. The proposed project would utilize one, two, or all three of the vacant bays (bays six through eight) in the Corps’ existing powerhouse at the Libby Dam and would tie into an existing transmission line. The project would have an installed capacity of 120 MW to 360 MW, depending on the number of generating units installed.

But the Corps said the commission does not have jurisdiction to issue a preliminary permit or license for a project at the site based on the authorizing statute for the Libby Dam. The Corps stated that it has the exclusive right to expand the powerhouse’s hydropower production to reach its fully authorized capacity.

Rivertec argued that the commission retains jurisdiction to authorize non-federal hydropower development at the Libby Dam, and in particular at bays six through eight. On July 1, commission staff dismissed Rivertec’s preliminary permit application, finding that the commission lacked authority to issue Rivertec a permit for the Lincoln Project. 

Said the Nov. 17 order from the FERC members: “We affirm the July 1 Order and find that hydropower development at the Libby Dam, and in particular at bays six through eight, has been reserved for exclusive federal development. This development is exclusive in that it has been specifically authorized by Congress to the Corps and thus, the Commission’s jurisdiction over that development is withdrawn. The Corps’ international obligations regarding water rights and power benefits do not change the fact that authority over hydropower development at the Libby Dam has been specifically authorized to the Corps. Rivertec’s contention that the Corps should have included Libby Dam Units 6-8 on an interim deauthorization list and that Congress would then have deauthorized those facilities is unavailing: these events did not occur and thus cannot affect our finding regarding jurisdiction. The authority over hydropower development in the bays at issue remains with the Corps.”

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.