September 9, 2010 - Lightship Nantucket; FERC signs Colorado MOU on small hydro

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Lightship Nantucket WLV61, in port on Martha's Vineyard in summer 2010.  Until 1983, lightships such as this were used to mark shoals; they have since been functionally replaced (if not aesthetically so) by automated buoys.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is working with states to promote the development (or redevelopment) of small hydropower projects across the country.  FERC has recently signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with four states on the development of hydrokinetic projects: California, Washington, Maine, and Oregon.  Now FERC has signed an MOU with Colorado to streamline the procedures for developing small-scale hydropower projects in Colorado.  According to a recent federal survey, Colorado could be host to several hundred potential small (5 MW or smaller) hydropower projects.  Altogether, these small projects could add up to a combined capacity of more than 1,400 MW.

The MOU focuses on the development by Colorado of a pilot program to test procedural options for simplifying the processes for developers to obtain conduit exemptions and small (5MW or less) project exemptions.

The MOU opens the door for developers of small projects in Colorado to participate in the pilot program.  Colorado and FERC are both expected to take input from project developers about the kind of obstacles they face in permitting and exempting small projects - and about what can be done to help more projects be developed.

As we've seen in Maine, developing or redeveloping small hydro projects can run into siting and permitting challenges at the federal, state, and local levels.  For example, the Scribner's Mill dam reconstruction and repowering project on the Crooked River in Maine faces opposition on water quality, environmental and fisheries concerns.  While an MOU like that between FERC and Colorado might not eliminate these challenges, stakeholders are hopeful that a resolution will be reached that allows environmentally responsible projects to move forward.

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