FERC seeks pilot projects to test a two-year hydro licensing process

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeks pilot projects from developers to test a two-year licensing process for hydropower development at existing non-powered dams and at closed-loop pumped-storage projects. Applications must be filed between Feb. 5 and May 5.

President Obama signed the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (H.R.267) and the Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act (H.R.678) on Aug. 9. Among other provisions, H.R.267 requires FERC to examine a two-year licensing process for adding hydropower to non-powered dams and for closed-loop pumped-storage projects.

FERC convened a workshop Oct. 22 to begin investigating the feasibility of a two-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage. Federal and state agencies, hydropower developers and non-governmental organizations presented ideas at the workshop, discussing potential criteria for identifying projects that might be appropriate for a two-year process. FERC also received 16 comment letters on the inquiry.

As a result, FERC issued a notice (No. AD13-9) on Jan. 6 setting minimum criteria and process for pilot projects that might be appropriate for licensing within a two-year process.

Criteria include:

  • The project must cause little or no change to existing surface and groundwater flows and uses;
  • The project must not adversely affect federally listed threatened and endangered species;
  • If the project is proposed to be located at or to use a federal dam, the request to use the two-year process must include a letter from the dam owner saying the plan is feasible;
  • If the project would use any public park, recreation area or wildlife refuge, the request to use the two-year process must include a letter from the managing entity giving its approval to use the site; and
  • For a closed-loop pumped-storage project, the project must not be continuously connected to a naturally flowing water feature.

The notice also establishes the information that must be included in an applicant’s request to test a two-year process.

“Prior to requesting the use of a two-year process, prospective applicants should meet with federal and state resource agencies, Indian tribes, non-governmental organizations and the public regarding the project and potential pilot process proposal, potential project-related environmental effects, the availability of existing information and the need for studies to supplement existing information,” FERC said. “Further, prospective applicants should request written comments on the adequacy of available information and the need for studies, including the anticipated scope and duration of the studies.”

FERC’s notice soliciting pilot projects may be obtained from FERC’s Internet site under http://www.ferc.gov/media/news-releases/2014/2014-1/AD13-9-000.pdf.

H.R.267 also increases the maximum small hydro licensing exemption to 10 MW from 5 MW; removes from FERC jurisdiction those projects under 5 MW that are on water conduits; increases the maximum capacity for conduit exemptions to 40 MW regardless of whether they are owned by municipalities; and provides FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits two years beyond their current three-year terms. H.R.678 authorizes small hydroelectric development at existing Reclamation-owned canals, pipelines, aqueducts, and other manmade waterways.

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