The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has vacated the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s licensing decision for the 960.9-MW Coosa River hydro project in Alabama and Georgia.
The suit was brought by American Rivers and the Alabama Rivers Alliance against FERC and the U.S. Secretary of the Interior, with Alabama Power Company as an intervenor.
FERC granted the 30-year operating license to Alabama Power in July 2013. This combined three Alabama Power hydroelectric projects into a single 960.9-MW Coosa River project. Combined, the Coosa River project includes 87.75-MW Weiss, 72.9-MW Neely Henry, 128.25-MW Logan Martin, 177-MW Lay, 225-MW Bouldin, 170-MW Mitchell and 100-MW Jordan.
The judges said that portions of the Coosa River ecosystem are in fragile condition and, “A review of the licensed project’s impact on the environment and endangered species documented that the project would cause a 100% take of multiple endangered mussels, a large loss of indigenous fish, and perilously low dissolved oxygen levels for substantial periods of time.”
Despite this, they said, FERC concluded licensing the project would have no substantial impact on the river’s ecological condition or endangered species.
In a decision issued July 6, the court granted the second petition for review on the ground that the Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service’s biological opinion, which FERC adopted, and FERC’s environmental assessment under the National Environmental Policy Act “were arbitrary and capricious, insufficiently reasoned, and unsupported by substantial evidence.”
Alabama Power has not yet issued a statement regarding next steps on this situation.
Previously, in February 2015, a three-judge panel at the same court rejected an appeal to the FERC decision to extend the license for the Warrior project, which consists of Smith Dam and Smith Lake, an intake structure, a powerhouse built into the dam, and an emergency spillway. This petition was discussed “for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.”
In total, hydro plants on the Black Warrior, Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers provide 6% of the electricity Alabama Power produces.