FERC relicenses Waterbury hydro project

Thursday, February 25, 2016

More than 16 years after Green Mountain Power Corporation applied to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for a new license to continue operation and maintenance of its Waterbury Hydroelectric Project on the Little River in Vermont, the Commission has issued a new license for the project.

Waterbury dam and reservoir were built by the United States in 1938 to reduce flooding in the Winooski Valley, but are owned by the State of Vermont and operated by Green Mountain Power.  The Commission issued the original license for the project in 1954, effective September 1, 1951, for a period of 50 years.

That original license expired on August 31, 2001.  Two years before that date, Green Mountain Power applied for a new license to continue operation and maintenance of the project.  But relicensing a FERC-licensed hydropower project can be an involved process.  Environmental, conservation, and recreation-oriented groups intervened in the application case.  As the relicensing case progressed, the original license expired, after which Green Mountain Power operated the project under annual licenses pending the disposition of its license application.

Over time, the applicant revised its proposal, in part to propose a change to run-of-river operation as contemplated by the project's Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation water quality certification. Ultimately, on February 19, 2016, the Commission issued an order issuing a new license for the Waterbury Project for a period of 40 years.

In setting the 40-year license term for the Waterbury project's new license, the Commission noted its discretion under Section 15(e) of the Federal Power Act to issue new licenses for a term that the Commission determines to be in the public interest, but not less than 30 years or more than 50 years.  The order also notes the Commission's general policy "to establish 30-year terms for projects with little or no redevelopment, new construction, new capacity, or environmental mitigation and enhancement measures; 40-year terms for projects with a moderate amount of such activities; and 50-year terms for projects with extensive measures."

The Waterbury project relicensing case illustrates one potential path for what happens when a license expires for an existing FERC-licensed hydropower project.  According to the Commission, as of February 11, 2016, over 50 projects were pending relicensing, with an increase expected in applications for new licenses over the coming years.

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