FERC offers recommendations after pilot two-year hydropower plant licensing program

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has released a report on its pilot two-year hydropower licensing process for qualifying projects, as stipulated by conditions of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013.

The study, required by Section 6 of the legislation, examines FERC’s continuing efforts to expedite the approval process for small plant proposals at existing non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects.

Based on its analysis, FERC staff said it “believes it is feasible under the Commission’s current regulations for developers to complete the licensing process in two years”, largely by refining tools and resources that are already available.

Per the study, the most important elements for ensuring a project is authorized expeditiously include site selection, a comprehensive project proposal, thorough pre-filing consultations and a complete application.

However, FERC noted in its 127-page analysis, the agency “is also aware of actions it can take to further aid applicants in the site selection, pre-filing, and post-filing processes.”

This will be reflected in updates and improvements to the small and low-impact hydropower portions on FERC’s website, which was developed nearly a decade ago, in addition to providing more frequent processing updates and “additional clarity and certainty.”

The agency came to its decision after conducting a two-year pilot program involving a 4.9 MW proposal from Rye Development, to be constructed at the Kentucky River Authority’s existing Lock and Dam 11.

Rye Development filed its notices of intent, pre-application documents and other materials on May 5, 2014, before filing a license application April 16, 2015. The company and FERC worked in close collaboration throughout the process, leading to the issuance of an original license for the project exactly two years after submitting its initial paperwork.

A pumped storage proposal from Wild Flower Water LLC had also been planned for the two-year pilot program, though it did not meet FERC’s testing criteria, prompting the agency to expand its sample size to include other pre-filing activities.

In its examination, FERC found 83 projects that completed pre-filing activities, and were issued original licenses or small hydro exemptions between 2003 and 2016. During the period, 23 of the projects were authorized in two years or less, with the median processing time for these being 1.36 years.

FERC said those that were not licensed in two years “tended to be larger capacity projects that presented increased complexity and/or controversy, a larger scope of issues, and a higher likelihood of the need for additional information.”

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for HydroWorld.com.

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