FERC budget seeks US$70.5 million for FY 2011 hydropower program

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has asked Congress to approve a fiscal year 2011 budget of $315.6 million including $70.5 million for its hydropower licensing and regulation program.

The commission submitted its budget request to Congress Feb. 1, 2010, seeking a total of $315.6 million to cover hydropower, electric power, and natural gas and oil pipeline programs, an increase of $17.6 million, or 5.9 percent from the estimated spending for FY 2010. Although Congress must approve the spending, all FERC’s expenditures are repaid to the U.S. Treasury from annual charges and fees the agency collects from industries it regulates.

Program requests for FY 2011, which begins in October 2010, include: Hydropower, $70.5 million, up from an estimated $66.9 million in FY 2010; Electric Power, $167.5 million, up from $158.1 million in FY 2010; and Natural Gas and Oil Pipelines, $77.5 million, up from $72.9 million in FY 2010.

FERC also requested full-time-equivalent employees totaling: Hydropower, 328, up 1; Electric Power, 832, up 7; Natural Gas and Oil Pipelines, 379, up 3.

FERC estimates 44 pre-filing, 89 license applications in FY 2011

The commission estimated its hydropower program activity for the coming year, saying the complexity and number of preliminary permit applications has nearly doubled in the past three years. It added that it expects to process 44 pre-filing applications for licenses in FY 2011.

“While the overall number of pending projects will be down in FY 2011 as compared to FY 2009, the majority of these projects will be in the first year of pre-filing, which is the most resource intensive period during the process,” FERC said.

The commission said it expects to attend 27 public information meetings, conduct 18 site visits, and participate in numerous tribal consultations. In addition to staff time, it is requesting $200,000 for contractor assistance in processing two pre-filing applications.

FERC said it expects to receive 89 original license applications, 59 of which are expected to be for projects utilizing hydrokinetic technologies.

“Right now, there is increased interest in hydrokinetic projects, along with pumped storage and small, low-impact conventional projects as a result of high oil prices, market forces, growing interest in lower emissions, domestic and renewable energy sources, state renewable portfolio standard policies, and federal incentives,” the agency said. (Hydro Review, January 2010)

“It is uncertain, however, whether these technologies will be ready for commercialization by FY 2011,” it added. “If they are not, the number of license filings for hydrokinetic projects could decrease substantially.”

In FY 2009, FERC acted on 18 applications representing 1,361.5 MW. FERC said that number is expected to increase to 25 in FY 2011. It estimated it will require $3.5 million for contractor assistance to perform 13 environmental impact statements and four environmental assessments.

Compliance actions up 30 percent

FERC said the number of environmental and engineering compliance actions has increased by about 30 percent in the past two years. License requirements have increased over this period from 20 to 25 per license to 40 to 60 per license. It said requirements have increased due to complex settlement agreements and an increasing number of mandatory conditions under Clean Water Act section 401 and Federal Power Act Section 4(e).

The commission requested $1 million to pay for contractors to help prepare two headwater benefit studies and 22 environmental assessments relating to additional capacity, water withdrawals, and land/marina use amendment applications. It asked for another $300,000 for contractors to support 125 environmental inspections.

FERC to plan risk-informed decision making for dam safety

FERC said it expects its dam safety program to conduct more than 1,800 inspections in FY 2011. In FY 2009, more than 200 independent consultant report reviews were completed to ensure structural integrity of dams. FERC said it expects a similar amount of activity in FY 2011.

The commission said it will develop in FY 2010 an action plan to incorporate risk-informed decision making into the FERC dam safety program. In FY 2011, it plans to prepare a portfolio risk assessment of FERC’s dam inventory. The assessment is to help FERC staff identify high-risk dams that need more urgent attention.

In 2009, FERC issued a five-year strategic plan containing goals including use of risk-informed decision making in its dam safety program. (HydroWorld 10/8/09)

FERC said the Bureau of Reclamation has been a leader in the development of dam safety risk assessment methodologies and uses a risk-informed decision making process in the continuous evaluation of the safety of its dams. FERC added that the Corps of Engineers, in cooperation with BuRec and FERC staff, has developed policy and procedure documents to guide risk-informed decision making by the Corps.

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