Keeping a weather eye on FERC

One of my responsibilities as senior editor of the Hydro Group for PennWell is to keep the premium content subscribers on apprised with regard to hydro project activity taken by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.

This means, each and every week, I spend time reviewing FERC’s eLibrary, doing searches and reading orders and notices related to hydropower. Although this can be a lot of work — and a lot of weeding through electronic documents — it’s also a lot of fun because it allows me to “take the pulse,” so to speak, of all the activity going on around the permitting and licensing of hydroelectric facilities in the U.S.

For months, the vast majority of the activity has related to permitting. We’ve had applications for preliminary permits and a lot of preliminary permits being issued. This is great, because it means a lot of companies are investigating the possibility of developing hydro plants.

But, on the other hand, it is not so great because it means the vast majority of the work going on with regard to hydro in the U.S. relates to permits, not licenses. And it makes me wonder about the factors behind this trend.

Recently, however, I’ve seen a bit of an uptick in licensing activity. In the past month, I’ve been able to add data to on licensing activity at five projects. With a total capacity of just over 14 MW, these aren’t big projects by any stretch of the imagination, but they ARE significant.

Let me give you an example of a recent one, to illustrate my point.

On Aug. 1, Public Utility District No. 1 of Snohomish County in Washington filed an application for an operating license for its proposed 6-MW Calligan Creek Hydroelectric Project. Construction of this plant, on Calligan Creek in King County, would involve building a 14-foot-high diversion 110 feet long, a 1.2-mile-long penstock, and a powerhouse containing a 6-MW two-jet horizontal Pelton turbine-generator unit. When completed, the project would provide 20.7 GWh of electricity annually.

This facility would be a great new source of hydropower generation, from a PUD that is known for its commitment to new development. In October 2011, the PUD’s 7.5-MW Youngs Creek hydro project began operating in Washington State, after a development timeline of 2.5 years and a total cost of $29 million. This was the first new hydroelectric plant built in the state in nearly 20 years, but clearly it won’t be the last.

The schedule submitted with the application for the Calligan Creek project calls for FERC to issue the final environmental analysis for this project in January 2015.

Does this recent upswing in hydro licensing activity portend a renaissance for hydropower development in the U.S.? It’s much too soon to tell, but I can’t help being a bit optimistic, especially in light of President Barack Obama’s recent signing of two hydroelectric power bills.

What do you think? Is your company moving forward on new development work? Where? Why? Tell us what you think is going on and what you see for the future of new U.S. hydro.

P.S. For those of you who might be wondering what the heck I’m talking about when I mention “premium content subscribers,” the editors of offer a subscription-based service that provides access to business opportunities worldwide, as well as FERC news and details on decisions issued by FERC pertaining to licensing and permitting for U.S. non-federal hydropower projects. Learn more here.

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