House committee hears testimony related to small hydropower draft discussion bill

Capitol Hill

Testifying earlier today before the U.S. House Energy & Commerce Committee, Maine Gov. Paul LePage pressed the government to advance a proposal that would further streamline the federal permitting process for qualifying hydropower projects of 5 MW or less.

Subtitled “Hydropower Regulatory Modernization”, the discussion draft seeks to make the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission the “exclusive authority to enforce and administer all license requirements”, while also minimizing duplicative studies in license proceedings.

The legislation could be a windfall for states like LePage’s Maine, which could generate an estimated 70 MW of energy from small hydroelectric projects built on existing non-powered infrastructure.

“I don’t believe FERC or the federal government should be involved in smaller dams on people’s property or in remote parts of the state,” LePage said. “They’ve got bigger fish to fry.”

Per the discussion draft:

  • FERC would become the exclusive authority to enforce and administer all license requirements.
  • FERC would minimize duplication of studies in license proceedings by requiring reliance on existing information. New studies would be authorized only when FERC determines that additional data or other information is necessary to support licensing decisions, and that the value of new data outweighs the cost of producing it.
  • FERC’s authority to manage shorelines and other lands at a licensed hydropower project for non-project recreation and other development would be limited to the administration of site-specific license provisions, and only if FERC determines that state or local laws are inadequate to administer such provisions.

The legislation would also remove Federal Power Act licensing requirements from projects of 5 MW capacity or less, while also giving FERC the authority to issue exemptions for facilities greater than 5 MW for certain proposals. To be eligible, the facility must be located at an existing non-powered dam or similar infrastructure and must not, among other criteria, “materially change operations” of the infrastructure.

FERC would also be required to “establish a schedule for all required authorizations under Federal law to ensure Federal and State resource agencies cooperate in FERC’s environmental review,” the draft said.

“We believe that we have the resources to be self-sufficient and can do it in a timely fashion,” LePage said, also referencing measures included in the draft discussion that would cut red tape for natural gas pipeline development.

The discussion draft is similar in its intent to the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, which was enacted by President Barack Obama in August 2013.

Both pieces of legislation are designed to help spur the development of hydropower at America’s existing non-powered infrastructure, of which only 3% of an estimated 80,000 MW has been developed.

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Michael Harris formerly was Editor for

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