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Return to Previous PageDJ Congress Directs US FERC To Study Hydropower Licensing

Nan Nalder, Acres International
Dow Jones Newswires

WASHINGTON – Congress directed the U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to undertake a comprehensive review of its hydropower licensing procedures as part of legislation adopted Tuesday reauthorizing the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

The brief section 603 of the Energy Act of 2000 calls for FERC to conduct the review in consultation with other regulatory agencies and to report back in six months, including any recommendations for legislative changes. FERC oversees a collaborative licensing program that involves extensive authority to impose operating conditions by state and federal environmental and natural resources agencies. The licensing process also involves input from affected parties, such as Native American tribes, and fishing and recreations interests.

The often cumbersome licensing process has increasingly come under fire from the hydropower industry and its allies in Congress.

Obtaining a license renewal often takes years of administrative procedure, and in one contentious case took two decades and resulted in the imposition of operating restrictions that the hydropower project owner complained rendered its facility uneconomical to continue operations.

As the criticism of the process has grown louder, FERC regulators have increasingly expressed frustration with the mandatory conditioning authority given federal resources agencies. The report language Congress approved Tuesday is a compromise after lawmakers first proposed legislation to reguire FEEC to more effectively balance the adverse environmental effects of hydropower with the economic benefits.

We’re very satisfied that in its closing hours, Congress recognizednhydropower’s significance to our nation’s energy supply,” said Linda Church Ciocci, executive director of the National Hydropower Association. Hydropower represents between 10% and 12% of U.S. electricity supply, according to NHA.

“With half of the nation’s (hydropower) capacity scheduled to he relicensed over the next decade, licensing reform is a critical first step to assuring the viability of clean, renewable and reliable hydropower generation, Ciocci said. “By fast-tracking this study, we are optimistic that a legislative fix will occur early in the next Congress.” The petroleum reserve reauthorization bill also included a provision exempting small hydropower projects in Alaska from FERO licensing review.

The bill exempts projects of less than 5 megawatts capacity, which will be subject to state regulation.

After the House approved the Senate-passed version of the bill Tuesday, the measure will now be forwarded to president Clinton, who is expected to sign it into law.

Dow Jones Newswires
October 26, 2000

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