FERC won’t rehear the rejections of permit apps for 750 MW of hydro projects

The members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Dec. 15 denied rehearing of Sept. 2 decisions by commission staff to dismiss preliminary permit applications from Rivertec Partners LLC for the proposed Clearwater Hydroelectric Project and Loxbridge Partners LLC for the proposed McNary Second Powerhouse Project.

Rivertec’s Clearwater Project would be located at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Dworshak Dam on the North Fork Clearwater River near the City of Orofino in Clearwater County, Idaho. Loxbridge’s McNary Second Powerhouse Project would be located at the Corps’ McNary Lock and Dam on the Columbia River near the City of Umatilla in Umatilla County, Oregon.

FERC noted: “On September 27, 2016, Rivertec and Loxbridge filed timely requests for rehearing of the September 2 Orders. This order denies the requests for rehearing.”

  • Clearwater Project – On April 12, 2016, Rivertec filed an application for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the proposed Clearwater Project. The proposed project would utilize one of three vacant bays in the Corps’ existing powerhouse at the Dworshak Dam, and would have an installed capacity of 40 MW to 50 MW. On May 31, 2016, xommission staff sent the Corps a letter requesting its opinion on jurisdiction over the proposed non-federal hydropower development3 and on whether Rivertec’s proposal would interfere with existing dam operations or plans for the Dworshak Dam facility. On Aug. 2, 2016, the Corps said it believes the commission does not have jurisdiction to issue a preliminary permit and that the project would substantially interfere with the Corps’ operation of Dworshak Dam. On Sept. 2, 2016, commission staff denied Rivertec’s application, finding that no purpose would be served in issuing the preliminary permit given that the Corps, whose permission would be needed for the development of any project at the Dworshak Dam, opposed the project.
  • McNary Second Powerhouse Project – On April 25, 2016, Loxbridge filed an application for a preliminary permit to study the feasibility of the proposed McNary Second Powerhouse Project. The project would utilize the McNary Dam and consist of a new powerhouse built in place of the existing McNary Dam south abutment. The project would have an installed capacity of 700 MW. On May 16, 2016, commission staff sent the Corps a letter requesting its opinion on whether non-federal hydropower development is authorized at the McNary Dam, and if so, whether Loxbridge’s proposal would interfere with existing dam operations or improvement plans. On Aug. 2, 2016, the Corps responded, stating that it believes the commission does not have jurisdiction to issue a preliminary permit for the proposed project, and that the project would interfere with the Corps’ operation of McNary Dam. On Sept. 2, 2016, commission staff denied Loxbridge’s application for a preliminary permit, finding that no purpose would be served in issuing the preliminary permit given that the Corps, whose permission would be needed for the development of any project at the McNary Dam, opposed the project.

On Sept. 27, 2016, Rivertec and Loxbridge filed requests for rehearing. Rivertec and Loxbridge argued that the commission retains authority to issue preliminary permits for their proposals, and that the commission should issue the permits despite the Corps’ stated opposition. Rivertec and Loxbridge contended that the Corps’ opposition is unwarranted and an abuse of process, and that the proposed projects would not interfere with the Corps’ operation of its facilities. Moreover, Rivertec and Loxbridge argued that any issues with the Corps could be resolved during the preliminary permit term, and that the Corps’ interests would be adequately protected through existing review processes established by law and the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) recently entered into between the commission and the Corps. Rivertec and Loxbridge further argued that the MOU provides authority for the commission to issue the permits and that the MOU should “overrule” any concerns expressed by the Corps.

On Nov. 16, 2016, the Corps responded by noting that it maintains its position that the commission lacks jurisdiction to issue a preliminary permit for either project. In addition, the Corps stated that it considers both proposals to be “infeasible” because neither proposal would be possible without the Corps shutting down its own generation units and negatively impacting its own flow requirements.

Said the Dec. 15 ruling by the FERC commissioners: “We affirm the September 2 Orders and find that staff’s dismissals of the Rivertec and Loxbridge preliminary permit applications were consistent with Commission policy. While Rivertec and Loxbridge assert that the proposed projects would not interfere with the Corps’ facilities or operations, we defer to the Corps’ opinion about its own facilities. The Corps clearly states that the proposals are not possible without the Corps shutting down its own generation units, thus making the projects ‘infeasible.’ Moreover, contrary to Rivertec and Loxbridge’s assertions, the Corps clarifies that this issue is not one that could be resolved through the feasibility study process of a preliminary permit term.”

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.