On November 14, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) announced that it has begun implementing the America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, which was signed into law by President Donald Trump on October 23. According to sections 3003 and 3004 of the Act, FERC must issue new rules to establish an expedited process for issuing and amending licenses for already existing non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects. FERC says the processes have to seek a final decision from them within two years of the receipt of a completed application.
The Act will help speed up the process of licensing and re-licensing for different hydropower projects. The bill can also expand some hydropower projects from a limit of five megawatts to 40 megawatts.
“There are a lot of hydropower projects coming up on relicensing — about a third of the fleet — so as these projects come up to be relicensed, it’s really important that we reduce the amount of regulatory burden to accelerate a timely relicensing process,” said Justin Ong, a policy associate with Clearpath, a Washington-based organization dedicated to advancing conservative-based clean energy policies.
“Giving our utilities the flexibility to better plan ahead will keep our energy sources safe and save taxpayers money,” Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington said in a statement about the hydropower provisions.
According to the release in the Federal Register, “the Commission has established three dockets in order to implement the requirements of the Act: RM19-6-000 (Licensing Regulations under America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018); AD19-7-000 (Nonpowered Dams List); and AD19-8-000 (Closed-loop Pumped Storage Projects at Abandoned Mines Guidance).”
FERC released a schedule for the implementation of the Act, which plans for a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for the expedited licensing process in early 2019 and for a final rule to be made in April 2019. They have also planned for a workshop on the closed-loop pump storage projects that are in abandoned mining sites, which is scheduled to be held in February 2019; FERC’s guidance on this should be issued in September 2019.
FERC will also be providing, in April 2019 a draft list of the already existing non-powered dams that have the greatest potential for non-federal development; they will have a finalized list in August 2019. According to the Energy Department, only three percent of the dams in the United States are currently electric; outfitting these already existing dams could help states meet the mandates for clean and renewable energy.
“In [Indiana’s] 8th Congressional District alone, there are six nonpowered dams that could be modernized to produce clean energy,” Rep. Larry Bucshon, R-Ind., said when the House passed the water projects bill in September.
The Act also requires FERC to convene an interagency task force in order to coordinate the different regulatory processes that require authorization for the new processes; the coordination session will be held on December 12. Some of the agencies that will be joining the task force session include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Forest Service, five Indian tribes, and various state agencies.
“Without question, this water infrastructure package is a win for America,” said FERC committee leaders. “It… promotes hydropower development, which creates clean energy jobs here at home and provides consumers with low-cost, emissions-free electricity. We applaud the Senate for passing this vital legislation and urge President Trump to sign it into law soon.”