The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has issued a draft environmental impact statement recommending the relicensing of the 182.5-MW Martin Dam hydroelectric project on Alabama’s Tallapoosa River.
Alabama Power Co., a unit of the Southern Co. (NYSE: SO), filed an application to relicense the Martin Dam project (No. 349) in 2011. FERC relicensed Alabama Power’s 211.485-MW Warrior River project (No. 2165) in 2010. FERC staff also issued an environmental assessment that year recommending FERC combine and relicense three other Alabama Power projects, 690.9-MW Coosa River (No. 2146), 170-MW Mitchell (No. 82), and 100-MW Jordan (No. 618) under the Coosa River name and number. That relicense is still pending.
FERC staff issued a draft EIS for Martin Dam on June 6, recommending the commission relicense the project as proposed by Alabama Power with a number of FERC staff modifications.
The utility proposed to continue to operate Martin Dam in peaking mode but to modify operations in several ways. To provide higher reservoir levels in winter for recreation and to help ensure Lake Martin reaches its summer pool level by the end of May each year, Alabama Power proposed to raise the winter flood pool by 3 feet and raise the operating curve and drought curve proportionately. FERC staff rejected that proposal.
“Staff does not recommend Alabama Power’s proposed increase in the winter flood pool elevation because the reduction in flood storage would result in an increase in flood elevation downstream of the projects,” the draft EIS said. “The proposal to raise the winter pool by 3 feet could affect 23 structures that are not affected under existing conditions.”
FERC staff added that without the winter pool increase, there is no need for the licensee’s proposed water quality monitoring in the reservoir or for proposed lowering of the lake for dock maintenance every six years. Similarly, FERC staff rejected a proposal to provide higher reservoir levels for recreation in the fall under certain conditions.
Among the licensee’s proposed environmental measures, FERC staff also rejected a proposal to study the distribution and abundance of American eels in the Tallapoosa River from the project tailrace to the mouth of the river. Instead, staff proposed that Alabama Power trap eels annually at Martin Dam to determine if eel passage might be necessary.
If the project were relicensed with no changes, project power would cost about $119.95 per MWh less than the cost of alternative power. Under Alabama Power’s proposal, power would cost $108.83/MWh less than alternative power. Under the FERC staff-endorsed alternative, power would cost $109.84/MWh less than alternative power.
The draft EIS may be obtained from the FERC Internet site, www.ferc.gov, under http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/OpenNat.asp?fileID=13275576. FERC is taking comments on the document from 60 days.