Mojave Water Agency conduit hydropower project qualifies

Monday, December 28, 2015

A California wholesale water provider has received a written determination from federal regulators that its proposed hydroelectric power project qualifies for easier regulatory treatment under federal law.  The project entails replacing a pressure reducing valve on an existing water supply pipeline with a hydropower turbine and generator, to create renewable electric energy.  Crucially, its qualification as a conduit hydropower project under a 2013 federal law enables its construction without a license under the Federal Power Act.

Under the Federal Power Act, most hydropower projects must be licensed by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.  But the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 amended the Federal Power Act to ease the regulatory burden on certain projects described as "conduit hydropower" -- those generating electricity using only the hydroelectric potential of a non-federally owned conduit, such as a tunnel, canal, pipeline, aqueduct, flume, ditch, or similar manmade water conveyance that is operated for the distribution of water for agricultural, municipal, or industrial consumption, and is not primarily for the generation of electricity.  The 2013 reform law exempted qualifying conduit hydropower facilities from needing licensure, and created an expedited process for soliciting public comment and determining whether the exemption applies.

This reform has led to a resurgence of interest in developing in-conduit hydroelectric projects.  For projects meeting the qualifying criteria, the FERC can act swiftly in issuing a determination that no licensure is required.  In some cases, this determination can come less than 60 days after an applicant files its notice of intent.

FERC's first conduit hydro docket in fiscal year 2016, CD16-1, illustrates this pace.  In that docket, the Mojave Water Agency was able to secure a written determination that the project it proposed meets the qualifying criteria under section 30(a) of the Federal Power Act, and thus is not required to be licensed under Part I of the FPA.

Among other operations, the Mojave Water Agency stores and distributes water in California's High Desert region.  An existing 48-inch pipeline conveys raw water sourced from the State Water Project to the Mojave River Basin for groundwater recharge.  Currently, pressure is reduced through a sleeve valve before discharging the SWP water to the Mojave River Basin by gravity flow.  But under the proposed Deep Creek Hydroelectric project, a hydroelectric turbine will perform the pressure reducing function while powering a generator capable of producing renewable electric energy.  According to the Mojave Water Agency, the hydroelectric station capacity will be 800 kW, with annual estimated power generation of 5,424 MWh.

On October 13, 2015, the MWA applied to the FERC for a determination that the Deep Creek project is a Qualifying Conduit Hydropower Facility, meeting the requirements of section 30(a) of the Federal Power Act (FPA), as amended by section 4 of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 (HREA).

On October 15, 2015, Commission staff issued a public notice that preliminarily determined that the project met the statutory criteria for a qualifying conduit hydropower facility, and thus was not required to be licensed under Part I of the FPA. The notice established a 45-day period for entities to contest whether the project met the criteria. No comments or interventions were filed in response to the notice.

As a result, on December 3 the FERC issued a letter constituting a written determination that the Deep Creek Hydroelectric Project meets the qualifying criteria under FPA section 30(a), and is not required to be licensed under Part I of the FPA.

Other proposed conduit projects have benefited from this quick timeline and relatively streamlined process.  Qualifying conduit hydropower facilities remain subject to other applicable federal, state, and local laws and regulations.

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