FERC director reviews bills to extend project deadlines

The head of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s hydro licensing staff testified before a congressional subcommittee Sept. 13 on five bills that would require FERC to reinstate licenses or extend construction deadlines of seven hydroelectric projects in five states.

Director J. Mark Robinson of FERC’s Office of Energy Projects, told the House Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee that he opposes extensions for three projects, but does not oppose provisions for the other four. His reasons mainly were based on the number of years project sites have been tied up with few signs of progress.

“The last several chairmen of the commission have had a policy of opposing legislation extending commencement of construction deadlines that would allow an entity more than ten years to develop a project,” Robinson testified. He said that is �based on the notion that allowing one entity, that is not showing progress in developing a project, to control a hydropower site for a greater length of time is not consistent with the public interest in developing clean, renewable hydroelectric energy.�

The director added that, in such cases, the FERC record upon which the original license was granted might be out of date after several years’ delay.

“To ensure that the public interest is served would require not simply reinstating the license and/or extending the license time frames for commencement of construction, but re-examining and, as necessary, updating the record,” he said.

Extensions opposed for Tygart, Arrowrock, Hale

Robinson testified he opposed license reinstatements and construction deadline extensions for three projects that failed to make progress in more than 10 years.

He said he opposed H.R.4417, which would authorize FERC to reinstate the license for 20-MW Tygart Dam (No. 7307), in West Virginia, and extend the deadline for beginning project construction to Dec. 31, 2007. Robinson said Tygart Dam was licensed in 1989 to the city of Grafton, W.Va. Construction did not begin in the 11 years before FERC terminated its license, despite a previous bill that Congress passed requiring a FERC extension until 1999.

Grafton attempted to restart the licensing process by filing for a new preliminary permit, which was granted but expired in 2003. FERC denied another permit and currently has before it a third Grafton permit application and a competing permit from another developer.

Robinson testified he also opposed another bill, H.R.4377, which would reinstate the license, if necessary, and extend the construction start deadline of the 60-MW Arrowrock project (No. 4656) in Idaho. Arrowrock was licensed to five irrigation districts in 1989, but construction did not begin in the 16 years before FERC gave notice of probable termination of the license. Arrowrock twice won previous congressional approvals requiring FERC to grant extra time extensions, until 2005.

Robinson also took exception to a third bill, H.R.971, which would require FERC to extend until May 30, 2007, the deadline for licensee Summit Hydropower Inc. to begin construction of the 440-kW Hale (No. 11547), 373-kW Collinsville Upper (No. 10822), and 920-kW Collinsville Lower (No. 10823) projects, all in Connecticut, and to issue two additional two-year extensions of the construction deadline.

Robinson said he does not oppose provisions that would extend the deadline for the Collinsville projects, which were licensed in 2001, because extensions would bring the new deadlines close to ten years from the original license issuances. However, he said he does not support the bill’s extensions for the Hale project, which was first licensed nine years ago. An extension for Hale would move its deadline to May 30, 2011, almost 14 years after the original license was issued.

No opposition to Swift Creek, Reynolds Creek extensions

Robinson said he did not oppose S.244, which would authorize FERC to extend the construction start deadline for Swift Creek Power Co.’s 1.5-MW Swift Creek (No. 1651) in Wyoming.

Unlike the original licenses for the other �greenfield� projects, Robinson noted Swift Creek was a 1997 relicense to rehabilitate an inoperable existing project. He said FERC interprets the construction deadlines in the Federal Power Act only to apply to original licenses, meaning the relicensed project had failed to meet a license deadline, but not a statutory deadline.

Further, Robinson said the Swift Creek extension would end precisely 10 years after the license was issued. He added that the bill authorized, but did not require, FERC to act, making the bill more acceptable.

Similarly, Robinson said he did not oppose S.176, which would authorize FERC to extend the construction start deadline for Haida Corp.’s 5-MW Reynolds Creek (No. 11480) in Alaska. Robinson said the proposed extensions would put the deadline precisely 10 years after the license was issued. He added that the bill also authorized, but did not require, FERC to act, again making the bill more acceptable.

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