FERC, California complete pact on hydropower pre-licensing cooperation

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California Water Resources Control Board have completed a memorandum of understanding under which the agencies are to coordinate pre-application activities for proposed FERC-licensed hydropower projects.

FERC and the California board issued a draft version of the memorandum in June for comments on the draft, which could become a template for FERC agreements with regulators in other states.

The agreement applies to conventional hydropower and pumped-storage projects to be licensed by FERC, but not to off-shore hydrokinetic projects. FERC and California signed a memorandum of understanding in 2010 to coordinate procedures and schedules for reviewing hydrokinetic energy projects in state waters of California.

The purpose of the current memorandum is to coordinate procedures and schedules prior to FERC’s review of hydropower license applications in California and the California board’s review of water quality certification applications necessary for FERC licensing of a project.

“The goal is to coordinate these pre-application activities, ultimately leading, to the extent possible, to issuance of environmental documents that satisfy the legal requirements of National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act and otherwise meet the commission’s and the state water board’s needs,” the MOU said.

The memorandum lists pre-application activities as consultation, environmental scoping, study planning, and submittal of and commenting on an applicant’s preliminary licensing proposal. It applies to procedures under FERC’s integrated, traditional, and alternative licensing processes.

The MOU calls for FERC and the California board to adhere to deadlines of FERC’s integrated licensing process and to develop a mutually agreeable schedule in the case of the other two licensing processes. In addition, the state water board is to participate in the FERC environmental scoping process.

Both agencies agreed to participate in study plan development and to attempt to identify projects where a single cooperative environmental document could be issued that satisfies the environmental policy requirements of both the federal and state governments. Both agencies agreed that the environmental baseline for a project would be the current state of the environment, including any existing project facilities.

FERC has entered memoranda of agreement with other state and federal agencies, including the Coast Guard in March in regard to hydrokinetic projects, the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management in 2012 regarding offshore projects, the Corps of Engineers regarding FERC licensing of projects at Corps facilities, and the state of Colorado regarding hydro license exemptions for small projects.

The MOU may be obtained from FERC’s Internet site under http://www.ferc.gov/legal/mou/mou-caswb-11-2013.pdf.

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