FERC member stresses cooperation to license hydrokinetic pilot projects

The commissioner who led a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission workshop on hydrokinetic project licensing urged cooperation among states, federal agencies, and others if ocean power and other hydrokinetic pilot projects are to be licensed.

�FERC, as it implements its process, will need the help of all interested parties, especially states and federal agencies, to act in a timely manner to promptly process pilot program licenses,� Commissioner Philip Moeller told the Oct. 2 technical workshop in Portland. (HNN 9/6/07)

Moeller convened the workshop to discuss FERC staff’s proposed process, which is intended to complete pilot project licensing in six months, provide FERC oversight and agency input, and allow developers to generate electricity while testing.

�I look forward to working with my fellow commissioners, commission staff, states and federal agencies, tribes, and stakeholders on the current effort with the hope that new hydropower technologies will be commercially feasible and successfully developed where appropriate to generate renewable power,� Moeller said. �In order to reap the benefits of this renewable power source, we need to send strong and coherent signals to encourage potential developers of the new hydropower technologies.�

Representatives from the hydro industry, state and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, Indian tribes, and the public met in Portland to comment on the pilot program. Under the process, pilot project licenses would be available for projects that are: 5 MW or less; removable or able to shut down on short notice; outside of waters with sensitive designations; and operated for the purpose of testing new technologies or determining appropriate sites for ocean, wave, and tidal energy projects.

MMS-FERC jurisdictional question remains

Among the participants was Deputy Director Walter Cruickshank of the Minerals Management Service, an Interior Department agency that is close to completing regulations and an environmental impact statement for an Alternative Energy and Alternate Use Program for the offshore Outer Continental Shelf, which falls under MMS jurisdiction.

Although MMS and FERC previously agreed to develop a memorandum of understanding to resolve jurisdictional issues involving projects on the Outer Continental Shelf, Cruickshank told the workshop that MMS has not signed the memorandum, at the request of senators who indicated the issue is still in play.

In June, Senate Energy Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., questioned the need for FERC to regulate projects on the OCS. Bingaman had said FERC’s historically complex hydro licensing process was not a good precedent for simplified authorization of alternative energy projects. (HNN 6/11/07)

In an interview following the Portland meeting, Moeller told HydroNews.net he chooses to be optimistic about the proposed program and the development of new hydropower technologies.

�Nothing that I heard could not be solved if people want to solve the challenges,� Moeller said. �If people want to make this happen, we can make it happen, but it is going to take that kind of attitude and commitment.�

FERC Commissioner Jon Wellinghoff also participated in the workshop to collect feedback on the proposal. A written comment period on the proposal ends Nov. 2.

As proposed, licenses for pilot projects would be short term, perhaps five years, and developers could generate electricity while testing. At the end of the five-year period, the project developer could either apply for a standard 30- to 50-year license or decommission and restore the site. FERC said the pilot project license would include standard safeguards that would allow FERC to alter or shut down a project to prevent unacceptable environmental effects.

FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher previously said success of the new pilot license would depend on the cooperation of other agencies to identify environmental studies early in the process, and to issue necessary permits in due course. He said the environmental review for a five-year project that can be shut down by FERC at any time, if necessary, should be different from that for a large-scale project that is licensed to operate for a half-century.

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