FERC counsel gives go-ahead to bill to reinstate Connecticut hydro projects

An attorney for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission told a congressional committee April 16 that FERC does not oppose a bill that would reinstate and extend the hydropower licenses of two projects, totaling 1.293 MW, that FERC terminated in 2007 for lack of construction progress.

John Katz, FERC's deputy associate general counsel for energy projects, testified before the Senate Water and Power Subcommittee on Senate Amendment 579 and H.R.316, which would revive the licenses of the 373-kW Upper Collinsville (No. 10822) and 920-kW Lower Collinsville (No. 10823) projects on the Farmington River in Hartford County, Conn.

The licenses originally were issued to Summit Hydropower in 2001. In 2002, the commission issued the projects the maximum allowable two-year extensions of time to commence construction until 2005. Nevertheless, Summit did not begin construction by the deadline.

In 2006, the head of FERC's hydro licensing staff testified before a House committee, saying FERC did not oppose language in a bill that would extend the construction deadlines for Summit's licenses for the Collinsville projects until 2007. However, that legislation did not pass.

Because construction did not start, FERC issued a notice of intent to terminate the licenses in 2007. When Summit did not respond, the notice became a final order in January 2008.

The current legislation, by Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn., would reinstate the licenses but would transfer them from Summit to the town of Canton, Conn. It also would extend the construction start deadline for another two years. It would allow FERC to add new terms and conditions to the licenses if necessary and would require FERC to supplement its environmental analysis of the projects to include any new environmental concerns or information.

Katz told the Senate subcommittee that Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and previous FERC chairmen have tended to oppose legislation that would extend commencement of construction further than 10 years from the date that the project license was issued. The commission contends that is because it is better to release sites to encourage competition for hydro development, and because environmental information might become stale over time.

In this case, the proposed extensions would run three years beyond the 10 years.

"However, to commission staff's knowledge, in the more than five years since the project licenses were terminated, no entity has sought to develop the projects or proposed other uses for the project sites, thus ameliorating concerns about competition or release of the sites," Katz said. "Moreover, because the bills specifically provide for the preparation of an updated environmental analysis, staleness of the environmental record will not be an issue.

"In consequence, I am authorized to state that Chairman Wellinghoff does not oppose Senate Amendment 579 or H.R.316," Katz concluded.

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