On October 17, 2019, pursuant to the America’s Water Infrastructure Act (AWIA) of 2018, FERC issued a guidance document for applicants seeking preliminary permits or licenses for closed-loop pumped storage projects at abandoned mine sites. It also issued a list of 230 existing nonpowered federal dams that FERC—along with the Secretaries of the Interior, Army, and Agriculture (collectively, the Secretaries)—determined have the greatest potential for nonfederal hydropower development.
Guidance on Closed-Loop Projects at Abandoned Mines
Section 3004 of AWIA required FERC to issue guidance to assist applicants for preliminary permits or licenses for closed-loop pumped storage projects at abandoned mines (see Nov. 20, 2018 and Apr. 23, 2019 editions of the WER). On April 4, 2019, FERC staff conducted a workshop to discuss opportunities for such projects and to inform development of the guidance document. As a result of that workshop, FERC staff developed the guidance document, which defines a closed-loop pumped storage project as one that “utilizes reservoirs situated at locations other than natural waterways, lakes, wetlands, and other natural surface water features, and may rely on temporary withdrawals from surface waters or groundwater for the sole purpose of initial fill or the periodic recharge needed for project operation.” It describes the extent and types of abandoned mines in the United States, and includes information relevant to identifying appropriate mine sites on which to develop hydropower facilities, including state and federal agencies with responsibilities associated with abandoned mines.
The guidance document sets forth FERC’s requirements for obtaining a preliminary permit or license under the Federal Power Act, including the various licensing processes available to applicants, and describes best practices and considerations for applicants, including typical environmental issues at abandoned mines, issues to consider when selecting a site, and a description of certain areas where FERC-licensed projects are prohibited, including in Wilderness Areas, National Parks, and Superfund sites. The guidance recommends early consultation with resource agencies, Native American Tribes, and Non-Governmental Organizations and provides a detailed list of FERC staff’s suggestions as to what should be included in a preliminary permit or license application for such projects.
List of Nonpowered Dams with Hydropower Potential
Section 3003 of AWIA directed FERC and the Secretaries to develop a list of existing nonpowered federal dams with the greatest potential for non-federal hydropower development (see links above to previous WER articles on this topic). AWIA provided that the list must be made available to the public and provided to certain Congressional Committees within 12 months of AWIA’s enactment, or by November 23, 2019.
In issuing its final list on October 17, 2019, Commission staff explained that it used a number of sources to develop the list, including energy assessments prepared by the Department of Energy, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation. In developing the list, FERC and the Secretaries evaluated each dam’s potential for hydropower development using several considerations, including: the compatibility of hydropower generation with the existing purposes of the dam; proximity to transmission resources; the existence of studies to characterize environmental, cultural, and historic resources relating to the dam; and the effects of hydropower development on release or flow operations of the dam. The final list of dams excludes: dams that are or will be utilized by a non-federal hydropower project under an existing FERC-issued license; dams identified by the Forest Service as incompatible with the purposes of existing Forest Management Plans or reservation authority; dams identified by the Army Corps as incompatible with hydropower generation due to circumstances that would hinder hydropower development (i.e., pending dam removal); and dams identified by the National Park Service that may have the potential to affect the National Park system or the National Wild and Scenic River system.