The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers have signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which they developed “to coordinate the respective regulatory processes associated with authorizations required to construct and operate non-Federal hydropower projects.”
The MOU updates a previous MOU signed by the agencies in 2011 and “offers project developers an approach designed to improve efficiency with the FERC and Corps processes, reduce permitting times, provide a single environmental document and ensure more certainty and less risk,” according to a press release.
“The potential for hydropower development in this country is significant, particularly at existing Corps facilities,” FERC Chairman Norman Bay said. “Today’s MOU is a positive step toward the development of these resources. Thank you to the Corps for their commitment to working with us to streamline our processes.”
“This strengthened collaboration between FERC and the Army Corps of Engineers advances the Obama Administration’s work to transition to a clean energy economy, and reduce carbon pollution,” Jo-Ellen Darcy, Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works, said. “This synchronized approach will shorten the time it takes the private sector to develop and construct new hydropower, and will help us more efficiently use our existing infrastructure. It is also advancing our efforts to find alternative ways to finance new infrastructure.”
The synchronized approach includes two phases — an environmental review phase followed by a detailed technical, engineering, and safety review phase.
During Phase 1, the developer, FERC staff, and Corps staff will coordinate early to discuss the developer’s proposal and the need for information to support the agencies’ permitting decisions. The environmental effects of the proposed project will be evaluated up front through a single, joint environmental document, and a FERC license will be issued.
During Phase 2, the developer coordinates with FERC and Corp staff to prepare a final project design and submits the design to the Commission and the Corps. Once all of the Corps’ preconstruction requirements have been completed and the Commission receives the Corps’ written construction approval, the Commission will authorize construction of the project.
Per the MOU: “The FERC-USACE two-phased, synchronized approach enables a quality and efficient coordinated environmental review using one NEPA document and one Section 401 application, to the extent States accept a single application. The status letters issued by USACE 408 on the preliminary design, and then on the 408 environmental review and USACE Regulatory 404 application review process coincident with the FERC license issuance provides the certainty developers are seeking that, to the extent no new information is identified in subsequent steps, the environmental review is complete. Phasing the environmental review first followed by the more detailed engineering and technical analyses enables the developer to incrementally fund the project. It is hoped that by establishing these improved permitting processes it will enable increased development of hydropower at non-power dams in a more efficient manner.”