FERC, California issue draft agreement on hydropower pre-licensing cooperation


The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the California Water Resources Control Board have issued a draft memorandum of understanding under which the agencies would coordinate pre-application activities for proposed FERC-licensed hydropower projects.

Comments are due July 8 on the draft, which could become a template for FERC agreements with regulators in other states. The state water board staff plans to present information on the MOU to a July 23 meeting of that agency.

The draft agreement would apply to conventional hydropower and pumped-storage projects to be licensed by FERC, but not to off-shore hydrokinetic projects. FERC and California signed a memorandum of understanding in 2010 to coordinate procedures and schedules for reviewing hydrokinetic energy projects in state waters of California.

The purpose of the current memorandum is to coordinate procedures and schedules prior to FERC's review of hydropower license applications in California and the California board's review of water quality certification applications necessary for FERC licensing of a project.

"The goal is to coordinate these pre-application activities, ultimately leading, to the extent possible, to issuance of environmental documents that satisfy the legal requirements of National Environmental Policy Act and California Environmental Quality Act and otherwise meet the commission's and the state water board's needs," the draft MOU said.

The draft lists pre-application activities as consultation, environmental scoping, study planning, and submittal of and commenting on an applicant's preliminary licensing proposal. It would apply to procedures under FERC's integrated, traditional, and alternative licensing processes.

As part of the inter-agency cooperation, FERC and the state are to try to identify a pilot project for development of a joint environmental document that can meet both FERC and state board needs.

The draft MOU calls for FERC and the California board to adhere to deadlines of FERC's integrated licensing process and to develop a mutually agreeable schedule in the case of the other two licensing processes. In addition, the state water board would participate in the FERC environmental scoping process.

Both agencies would agree to participate in study plan development and would attempt to identify projects where a single cooperative environmental document could be issued that satisfies the environmental policy requirements of both the federal and state governments. Both agencies would agree that the environmental baseline for a project would be the current state of the environment, including any existing project facilities.

FERC has entered memoranda of agreement with other state and federal agencies, including the Coast Guard in March in regard to hydrokinetic projects, the Bureau of Offshore Energy Management in 2012 regarding offshore projects, the Corps of Engineers regarding FERC licensing of projects at Corps facilities, and the state of Colorado regarding hydro license exemptions for small projects.

The California Water Resources Control Board is taking written comments on the draft MOU until noon, Pacific time, July 8. Submission by e-mail is encouraged to tvallejo@waterboards.ca.gov with a subject line "Comments on FERC/SWRCB Draft MOU.” They also may be submitted to Tammy Vallejo, State Water Resources Control Board -- Division of Water Rights, Water Quality Certification Program, P.O. Box 2000, Sacramento, CA 95812-2000.

The draft MOU may be obtained from the state water board's Internet site under http://www.waterboards.ca.gov/waterrights/water_issues/programs/water_quality_cert/ferc_mou/index.shtml.

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