FERC draft EIS endorses relicensing 103.5-MW Merced River, 3.4-MW Merced Falls hydro projects

Merced Falls Hydropower Project

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has issued a draft environmental impact statement recommending the relicensing of the 103.5-MW Merced River and 3.4-MW Merced Falls hydroelectric projects on the Merced River in California.

Merced Irrigation District filed a relicense application in 2012 for the Merced River project (No. 2179), which has two developments, 94.5-MW New Exchequer and 9-MW McSwain. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. also filed that year to relicense Merced Falls (No. 2467). FERC processed the two applications together because the projects are located contiguously on the Merced River, Merced Falls' operation depends entirely on flows released by the Merced River project, and downstream environmental effects of both projects are interrelated.

FERC staff recommends the commission relicense the projects as proposed by the licensees with a number of FERC staff modifications. Primary licensing issues are flow regimes on project-affected reaches for aquatic resources, project effects on physical habitat for aquatic resources, protection of wildlife resources, recreation enhancements and protection of cultural resources.

Under the FERC staff-endorsed licensing alternatives plus resource agency mandatory conditions, in the first year of operation Merced River project power would cost $2.90 per MWh more than the cost of alternative power, while Merced Falls would cost $45.40/MWh more than the cost of alternative power.

The draft EIS may be obtained from the FERC Internet site, www.ferc.gov, under http://elibrary.ferc.gov/idmws/common/OpenNat.asp?fileID=13818707. Comments are due May 29.

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