FERC staff recommends relicensing 2,755-MW Niagara

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeks comments on a draft environmental impact statement evaluating relicensing of the New York Power Authority’s 2,755-MW Niagara project.

The project is located on the Niagara River between Lake Erie and Lake Ontario in Niagara County, N.Y. It diverts water from the Niagara River 2.6 miles upstream of Niagara Falls and releases it back to the river about five miles downstream of the falls.

FERC staff concluded, by relicensing the project as proposed with staff modifications, the site would be best adapted for the proper use, conservation, and development of the Niagara River. Staff-recommended measures include habitat improvement projects for fish and wildlife, funding to reduce the effect on the city of Niagara Falls’ water treatment system, and improvements to recreation.

The draft EIS documents the views of government agencies, non-government organizations, Indian tribes, the public, the license applicant, and commission staff. It contains staff evaluations on the applicant’s proposal and alternatives for relicensing.

Key relicensing issues outlined

Key relicensing issues include: fluctuations in water level; groundwater transport; shoreline erosion; and power allocation. NYPA’s proposal, under an offer of settlement filed with the commission, includes measures to address those issues. No change in project operation is proposed or recommended. FERC staff said environmental measures include in the settlement offer, with recommended staff modifications, would improve water quality, protect and enhance fish and terrestrial resources, improve public use of recreational facilities and resources, and protect and maintain historic resources within the project area.

FERC submitted the draft EIS to the Environmental Protection Agency and made it available to the public July 14. It can be obtained from FERC’s Internet site, www.ferc.gov, using the �eLibrary� link. Comments are due to FERC within 60 days of publication of the notice in the Federal Register and should reference Project No. 2216-066. Comments can be filed electronically on the Internet; instructions are under the eLibrary link.

The project’s current license expires Aug. 31, 2007. If Niagara were to continue to be operated as it now is, the project would generate an average 13.7 million MWh annually, with an annualized net benefit of $543.5 million. FERC noted that figure is based on market prices, not the actual prices at which most of the project’s power and energy are sold, which are substantially below market value. In contrast, the proposed action as set forth in the settlement, with staff recommendations, would result in the same amount of generation, and an annualized net benefit of $539.1 million.

The Niagara project includes the 240-MW Lewiston pumped-storage plant and the 2,515-MW Robert Moses Niagara power plant. The project’s capacity is based on upgrades authorized by FERC in 1993, most of which have been completed.

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