Low-impact hydro group proposes revising certification criteria

The Low Impact Hydropower Institute proposes to revise criteria that hydroelectric projects must meet to be certified as “low-impact” hydropower. Comments are due June 29.

LIHI said the proposed revisions are important improvements to its program for certifying conventional and incremental hydropower projects. LIHI said it intends to develop a separate set of criteria for in-stream hydrokinetic facilities.

LIHI certifies hydro facilities based on low-impact criteria for river flows, water quality, fish passage and protection, watershed health, endangered species protection, cultural resources, recreation, and whether the dam has been recommended for removal. The 10-year-old organization has certified 37 projects featuring 103 dams in 22 states with total installed capacity of 2,136 MW.

The voluntary program is designed to help consumers identify environmentally sound, low-impact hydropower facilities for emerging “green” energy markets. However, the certification system is receiving increased attention as states consider making low-impact certification a condition for hydro projects to participate in mandatory renewable energy portfolio standards being imposed on electricity suppliers. (HydroWorld 5/12/09)

The proposed revisions would add criteria for general eligibility, settlement agreements, energy efficiency, and reservoir levels. Other changes would expand criteria for recreation and shift the emphasis on fish passage and fish protection to comprehensively address migratory fish.

LIHI’s Governing Board initiated a complete program review in 2007. A task force met throughout 2008 and into early 2009, looking for ways to raise the expectation for environmental performance while increasing the value of LIHI certification for certificate holders. The task force also looked for ways to simplify current criteria and considered a number of policy questions.

LIHI said the task force and board determined the basic framework and assumptions that underpin LIHI’s criteria — such as relying on agency recommendations — are strong, and have contributed to the organization’s success. Accordingly, LIHI said, the new draft criteria represent an incremental change rather than a major shift.

Hydro industry expected to scrutinize criteria changes

Even so, the organization said comments on the revisions are important as criteria must have the support of industry, the environmental community, and state and federal resource agencies that participate in the regulation of hydropower.

The hydropower industry is expected to look closely at the proposed changes. Discussion at the National Hydropower Association Annual Conference revealed concern about some new provisions.

Individual hydro operators are divided on the idea of low-impact certification. Some see it as receiving an environmental “seal of approval” to help market their power. Others see it as an implication that non-certified hydropower is in some way “high-impact,” even though it is non-polluting and renewable.

The prospect of LIHI certification being mandatory to qualify for state, and possibly federal, renewables portfolio standards, gave a new urgency to industry concern. It was noted that LIHI is not the only low-impact certification system and portfolio standards wanting such certification should specify “independent certifying agencies,” rather than LIHI alone.

The proposed revisions are on LIHI’s Internet site, www.lowimpacthydro.org. Comments are due June 29: by e-mail to info@lowimpacthydro.org with “Criteria Comments” in the subject line; by mail to 34 Providence Street, Portland, Maine 04103; or by fax to (1) 206-984-3086.

Once the comment period closes, the board will evaluate comments, make revisions, and post the final draft on its website. The board anticipates revisions will be in place by Sept. 1.

Maine’s 39.35-MW Rumford Falls wins low-impact designation

On May 6, LIHI announced Brookfield Renewable Power’s 39.35-MW Rumford Falls project (No. 2333) on the Androscoggin River in Maine had earned certification. (HydroWorld 1/2/09)

Applications for certification or recertification of other projects are pending. (HydroWorld 4/15/09) New pending applications include one filed by the city of Albany, Ore., for 500-kW Vine Street (No. 11509), on the South Santiam River.

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