On April 23, 2013, FERC’s Director of Office of Energy Projects, Jeff C. Wright, testified before the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources concerning draft legislation aimed at increasing hydropower production in the United States.  The draft legislation at issue included S. 545, “Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013” and H.R. 267, “Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013.”  In his testimony, Wright discussed FERC’s authority under the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) to issue licenses or exemptions for hydropower projects under its jurisdiction.  Wright further detailed FERC’s recent efforts to support small and “innovative” projects, including marine and hydrokinetic projects, and pumped storage projects.

In his testimony, Wright first engaged in a detailed discussion of FERC’s licensing process for hydropower projects, and hydropower projects which qualify for exemptions under section 30 of the FPA.  Wright further detailed the three FERC licensing processes: integrated licensing, alternative licensing, and traditional licensing, noting that project developers and other stakeholders play “the leading role” in project success and the length and complexity of the regulatory process.  Wright testified that small hydropower projects at existing dams, innovative marine and hydrokinetic projects, and pumped storage projects have increased in recent years, and as a result, FERC has worked towards “efficient review” of such project proposals.  As part of this effort, Wright testified that FERC held a technical conference on December 2, 2009 to address issues surrounding small non-federal hydropower projects.  Wright further testified that FERC staff presented an action plan at the April 15, 2010 FERC meeting, including new web-based resources to “make it easier for applicants to understand and complete the licensing process.”  Wright also indicated that FERC has relaxed some of the standards concerning exhibits and drawings for exemption applications.

With respect to the draft legislation at issue before the Committee, Wright generally offered “strong support” for the goal of increasing hydropower production in the United States.  The draft legislation proposed to require FERC to “investigate” implementing a two-year licensing process.  Wright supported this goal, but noted that FERC is under “significant constraints” imposed by the FPA and other legislation that affect the licensing process, such as the Clean Water Act, Coastal Zone Management Act, and others.  Wright testified that it is not clear that under the existing authority, FERC could “mandate” a shortened process.  Wright supported draft legislation to amend section 30 of the FPA to not require conduit projects with installed capacity of 5 MW or less to be licensed, if the applicant makes a showing the project qualifies as a conduit project.  Wright also testified in support of efforts to amend Section 405(d) of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 to increase installed capacity for a small hydropower exemption from 5,000 to 10,000 kW.  Wright also supported efforts to amend the FPA to allow FERC to extend the term of a preliminary permit up to two years, once, under FPA Section 5.   Wright concluded that the draft legislation will help in the realization of the nation’s hydropower potential.

A copy of Wright’s testimony is available here.