In June 2021, Senators Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) introduced The Maintaining and Enhancing Hydroelectric and River Restoration Act of 2021, which would establish a tax credit for certain investments in dam safety and environmental improvements at qualified dams and separate tax credit to incentivize the removal of obsolete river obstructions, including nonpowered dams.
Continue Reading Senators Murkowski and Cantwell Introduce Bipartisan Hydropower Legislation

On July 14, 2021, the City and County of Denver, Colorado, acting through its Board of Water Commissioners (“Denver Water”), filed a Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of Colorado, requesting declaratory and injunctive relief against Boulder County over the County’s alleged efforts to delay and obstruct Denver Water’s expansion of the Gross Reservoir Hydroelectric Project.
Continue Reading Denver Water Files Complaint in Federal Court, Seeking Preemption of Boulder County Regulation Due to FERC Hydroelectric Project License

On July 15, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“Commission” or “FERC”) issued a Final Rule amending its regulations pertaining to: (1) the information required to be filed with a notice of intent to construct a qualifying conduit facility and (2) the licensing requirements applicable to major projects up to 10 megawatts (MW).  The Final Rule was issued to align the Commission’s regulations with changes to the Federal Power Act (“FPA”) that were made as part of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act (“HREA”) of 2013.
Continue Reading FERC Revises Filing Requirements for Certain Small Hydroelectric Facilities

In an order dated May 20, 2021, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC, or the Commission) terminated the hydropower licenses for three projects located on the Tittabawasee River in Michigan—the Secord (P-10809), Smallwood (P-10810) and Sanford (P-2785) dams.  The termination by implied surrender follows a May 2020 breach at the Sanford dam and the breach

On December 27, 2020, President Trump signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021, which includes a $1.4 trillion omnibus spending bill for fiscal year (FY) 2021 along with $900 billion in COVID-19 stimulus relief.  The Act includes a variety of measures to promote clean energy and climate policy, as well as several hydropower-related provisions.
Continue Reading Hydropower Provisions Included in 2021 Appropriations Bill

In 2019, the D.C. Circuit in Hoopa Valley Tribe v. FERC  held that the plain language of Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 401 establishes a bright-line maximum period of one year for States to act on a request for water quality certification and that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (Commission) was arbitrary and capricious when it failed to enforce the statutory time-limit.  Since the Hoopa Valley Tribe ruling, the Commission has repeatedly held that a State waives its authority under Section 401 when it has sought to extend the one year review period by requesting or directing the applicant to withdraw and resubmit its application to afford the state reviewing agency more time.  In several recent cases, however, the Commission has found that there may be instances where a withdrawal and resubmission of a water quality certification by the applicant does not result in a State’s waiver of Section 401 certification authority.
Continue Reading FERC’s Clean Water Action Section 401 Waiver Analysis Continues to Evolve

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC or the Commission) released a Notice of Inquiry (Notice) on January 19, 2021 to solicit public comments on whether FERC should impose financial assurance requirements on hydropower projects to ensure that licensees have adequate financial resources to maintain their projects in safe condition.  The Notice comes on the heels of a significant and costly failure of two dams in Michigan in May 2020 following years of the licensee’s noncompliance with FERC dam safety orders, partly due to its alleged inability to pay for the work required.  In the months since the dam failures, the licensee declared bankruptcy, leaving insufficient resources to conduct over $300 million in repairs to four different dams, reimburse neighboring property owners for damages caused by flooding, and pay the substantial civil penalty recently proposed by FERC
Continue Reading FERC Floats Financial Assurance Requirements for Hydropower Projects To Ensure Funding for Dam Safety and Environmental Requirements

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has issued an order proposing a $15 million civil penalty in response to the failure of a licensee to respond to FERC dam safety orders in the wake of the failure of the Edenville dam and downstream FERC-licensed Sanford Dam (Project No. 2785) in Michigan in May 2020 (see June 1, 2020 edition of the WER).  The December 9, 2020 Order to Show Cause and Notice of Proposed Penalty followed months of FERC orders and directives to the licensee related to the catastrophic failure of the two dams, which resulted in the evacuation of 10,000 people, an estimated $190 million in economic damages to local residents, and $55 million in response costs, prompting Governor Gretchen Whitmer to request a disaster declaration from the federal government.
Continue Reading FERC Issues Order Proposing Substantial Penalty for Licensee in Michigan Dam Failure

On Tuesday, October 13, the National Hydropower Association (NHA) announced its partnership with American Rivers, the World Wildlife Fund, and other environmental groups in a “Joint Statement of Collaboration on U.S. Hydropower: Climate Solution and Conservation Challenge.” The Joint Statement, which was facilitated over the last two and a half years through Stanford University’s Uncommon Dialogue process, is a collaborative effort to address climate change by encouraging “the renewable energy and storage benefits of hydropower and the environmental and economic benefits of healthy rivers.”
Continue Reading Hydropower Advocates and Environmental Groups Reach Historic Agreement