In a report on implementing new hydropower legislation, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff reports a handful of small project operators already have taken steps to leave FERC jurisdiction or to extend terms of their preliminary permits.
FERC staff reported to the commission Jan. 16 on actions taken so far to implement the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (H.R.267), which was signed into law by President Obama on Aug. 9. One finding by Congress was that there is substantial potential for adding hydropower generation to non-powered dams because only 3 percent of the 80,000 dams in the U.S. generate electricity.
- increases the maximum small hydro licensing exemption to 10 MW from 5 MW;
- excludes from FERC jurisdiction qualifying projects under 5 MW that are on water conduits;
- increases the maximum capacity for all conduit exemptions to 40 MW regardless of whether they are owned by municipalities (non-municipalities' conduit exemptions had been restricted to a maximum of 15 MW);
- provides FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits two years beyond their current three-year terms; and
- requires FERC to examine a two-year licensing process for adding hydropower to non-powered dams and for closed-loop pumped-storage projects.
Soon after passage of the act, FERC staff updated the commission website to provide guidance on the new provisions. To date, the report said, FERC has received no applications by a private developer for a maximum 40-MW conduit exemption and no applications for a maximum 10-MW small hydropower exemption. However, FERC has approved requests for a number of qualifying conduits to be removed from FERC jurisdiction as well as a number of requests for two-year preliminary permit extensions.
Chris Chaney of FERC staff reported the commission so far has received 18 notices of intent to exclude small conduit hydropower projects from FERC jurisdiction. Chaney said 16 have been approved, one was rejected because it did not meet criteria, and one is pending.
"The approved projects ranging in size from 10 kW to 4.8 MW and projected to produce about 31,000 MWh annually are mostly located in the western United States," Chaney said. "... Staff expects to see a significant number of these filings in the future based on industry inquiries and comments."
FERC's Tim Konnert said there are 270 active three-year preliminary permits that allow study of hydropower project sites. Of those, he said staff has received seven applications for two-year extension of permit terms. Two have been granted, three denied due to lack of diligence during the original term, and two are pending.
Konnert also reported on FERC's notice (No. AD13-9) inviting developers to propose pilot projects to test a two-year licensing process for hydropower development at existing non-powered dams and at closed-loop pumped-storage projects. Applications must be filed between Feb. 5 and May 5.
Konnert outlined criteria for pilot projects and noted FERC is requiring prospective applicants to consult prior to filing with affected resource agencies, tribes, non-governmental organizations and the public.
If the commission receives and grants a request for a pilot project, testing is to begin in spring or summer of 2014 and continue through spring or summer of 2016. The commission is to hold a final workshop on the effectiveness of each pilot project by Feb. 5, 2017, and report its findings to Congress by April 6, 2017.
Hydro relicensing load expected to increase
Konnert told the commission that its staff expects a substantial increase in filing of hydropower relicense applications, totaling 9,500 MW, from 2019 through 2025.
"Preparation of a license application under the default integrated licensing process requires early and intensive participation by commission staff up to 3.5 years prior to the license application filing deadline," Konnert said. "Even though the first of the relicense applications are not due to be filed until 2019, staff anticipates experiencing the effects of this workload as early as the latter half of 2015."