Small hydro approved under fast process

Monday, September 19, 2011

This month, federal energy regulators approved a small hydroelectric project within two months of its formal proposal under an innovative streamlined regulatory path.

Recognizing the potential of small hydro projects, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is interested in simplifying the regulatory process for small projects.  Last year, FERC signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the state of Colorado to streamline the procedures for developing small-scale hydropower projects in that state.  Colorado has identified hundreds of small (5 MW or smaller) or conduit hydropower projects (turbines in water pipes and irrigation canals) whose total capacity could exceed 1,400 MW.  Under the Memorandum of Understanding, Colorado is developing a pilot program to test ways to simplify the processes through which project developers obtain exemptions for small projects.  For example, the application is presented to multiple agencies for simultaneous comment, rather than a prolonged multi-agency back and forth process.

Last week, FERC approved Colorado's first hydroelectric project under the Memorandum of Understanding.  Docketed as Project P-14230, the Meeker Wenschhof hydroelectric project will be developed on an existing ranch irrigation pipeline in northwestern Colorado.  Historically, water flowing through the pipe has been slowed by a valve before being stored in an underground cistern.  As approved by FERC, the rancher will install a 23-kilowatt turbine in place of the valve.  The project is expected to generate 100,000 kilowatt-hours per year on average.

The Meeker Wenschhof project's engineering details are interesting, making innovative and efficient use of the power of flowing water.  Equally interesting is the speed with which the project flew through the regulatory approval process, with the application granted just two months after it was filed with FERC.  Admittedly, this expedited process is currently limited to small hydro and conduit projects.  Nevertheless, the Meeker Wenschhof project's rapid approval illustrates how quickly the regulatory process can be completed if it is designed to accommodate developers' needs.

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