On January 23, 2012, FERC issued the first pilot project license to Verdant Power, LLC (“Verdant”) for its Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy Project No. 12611 (“RITE”).  The RITE project will be a 1,050 kW tidal project located on New York’s East River, and the project will use natural tidal currents to generate power from turbines mounted on the riverbed.  In approving the pilot license, FERC required a number of environmental measures to preserve the fish, wildlife, cultural, and aesthetic properties of the area surrounding the RITE project.

The term “hydrokinetics” describes zero-emission renewable power from the movement of water.  Hydrokinetic projects are often referred to as “tidal” or “wave” projects, and unlike traditional hydropower projects, hydrokinetic projects do not require the building of infrastructure to create an impoundment of water (such as dams that collect and cascade water) to create energy.  Low-head hydropower projects can be confused with several hydrokinetic projects because several low-head hydropower projects are smaller projects that utilize “run-of-the-river” technology, but actually, low-head hydropower usually refers to sites with a head (i.e., elevation difference) of less than five meters (about 16 feet) for the falling water.

In an effort to encourage hydrokinetic development, the Commission developed the pilot license process in 2008 to test new technologies and to evaluate appropriate sites for these new technologies.  FERC also hopes to assess the environmental impact of implementing new hydrokinetic projects.  In order to be eligible to receive a pilot license the project must be: (1) small, (2) short term, (3) located in environmentally non-sensitive areas based on the Commission’s review of the record, (4) removable and able to be shut down on short notice, (5) removed, with the site restored, before the end of the license term (unless a new license is granted), and (6) initiated by a draft application with the appropriate environmental analysis.  To date, FERC has issued 100 preliminary permits to study the feasibility of developing a pilot hydrokinetic project, and currently there are nine entities in the pre-filing process for license applications.  Only three entities have actually submitted full license applications. 

The RITE project will be operated remotely, and although there will be no manned control center, dispatch technicians will be available to check interconnections.  A supervisory computer will collect data on the status of each turbine and allow for real-time and post-processed performance monitoring.  During periods of “no-load” when energy is not being generated, an automatic brake will be applied to the turbines and prevent the rotors from rotating.
A full copy of the Commission decision is available here.