FERC, Colorado plan pilot program for small hydro exemptions

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the state of Colorado have signed a memorandum of understanding under which Colorado is to develop a pilot program to advance FERC hydropower licensing exemptions for small hydro projects in the state.

Coinciding with rising interest in development of small, low-impact hydro projects, FERC said federal surveys have identified several hundred potential hydro projects in Colorado of less than 5 MW that total more than 1,400 MW. Beginning with a technical conference in December 2009, FERC has been investigating ways to simplify the process to obtain small hydropower licenses and exemptions. (HydroWorld 12/4/09)

Under the MOU, announced Aug. 25, FERC and Colorado agreed that Colorado will develop a pilot program to test options to simplify procedures for authorizing exemptions from FERC hydropower licenses. Under the Federal Power Act, exemptions are allowed for small hydro plants on conduits and for hydropower projects of 5 MW or less that utilize an existing dam or natural water feature.

FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff thanked Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter and his staff for working to develop the agreement.

“Small hydropower has an important role to play in the future of renewable energy in this country,” Wellinghoff said. “I am pleased that Colorado is committed to this cause.”

Commissioner Philip Moeller commended Colorado for recognizing the great potential for hydrokinetic resources in the state. While Colorado is the first state to sign a memorandum with FERC on small hydropower, the commission has signed MOUs with California, Maine, Washington, and Oregon to cooperate in authorizing hydrokinetic projects. (HydroWorld 5/19/10)

Ritter signed legislation March 22 that increased the state’s renewable energy standard to require that utilities obtain 30 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2020.

Colorado to pre-screen exemption applications

Under the pilot program, Colorado is to pre-screen project applications to ensure they qualify either for conduit or 5-MW exemptions. Screening is to determine that the projects either use an existing non-hydropower conduit, an existing dam, or a natural water feature. It also will determine that applicants own the project features, and that 5-MW exemption applications propose new installed capacity or increased capacity.

The state is to develop procedures for implementing the pilot program by the end of August. Procedures are to include pre-screening for compliance with FERC regulations for exemptions.

The agreement says nothing in the MOU precludes an entity from filing directly for a FERC exemption, outside the Colorado process.

The pilot program is to continue until 20 projects have been processed. If the process proves successful, FERC and the state intend that the procedures will continue to be used to facilitate an expedited exemption process in Colorado.

As part of the agreement, FERC and Colorado are to identify a single point of contact for implementation of the program. Both parties are to hold quarterly teleconferences to discuss development and implementation of the pilot program. They also are to share and make available to the public all relevant economic, environmental, and technical data.

FERC agreed to waive the first and second stages of consultation if Colorado state and federal resource agencies and any affected tribes waive consultation requirements.

The commission also noted it plans to unveil soon a new Internet page devoted to small hydropower licensing at its Internet site, www.ferc.gov. (HydroWorld 4/16/10)

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