• NH Conduit Hydropower Project Approved
  • January 13, 2015 | Author: Todd J. Griset
  • Law Firm: Preti, Flaherty, Beliveau & Pachios, LLP - Portland Office
  • Federal regulators have determined that a proposed hydropower facility at a New Hampshire wastewater treatment plant can be built without a license, under a recently enacted law. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff has found that the Ammonoosuc Water Treatment Plant Hydroelectric Project proposed by the City of Berlin Water Works is a qualifying conduit hydropower facility under federal law. Like other conduit projects, the Ammonoosuc project involves the addition of a turbine into an existing system of pipes and pressure reduction valves, and can create additional renewable energy with few incremental impacts.

    Under the Federal Power Act, most hydropower projects in the U.S. require licensure by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. But last year, Congress passed the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, easing the regulatory burden on projects. That law exempts certain so-called "conduit" hydropower facilities from the licensing requirements of the Federal Power Act. Conduit facilities generate electricity using only the hydroelectric potential of a non-federally owned conduit, such as a tunnel, canal, pipeline, aqueduct, flume, ditch, or similar manmade water conveyance that is operated for the distribution of water for agricultural, municipal, or industrial consumption, and is not primarily for the generation of electricity. To qualify, conduit facilities must have an installed generating capacity that does not exceed 5 megawatts (MW), and must not have been licensed or exempted from the licensing requirements of Part I of the Federal Power Act on or before August 9, 2013. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission subsequently issued Order No. 800, updating its rules to conform to the newly streamlined process.

    While qualifying conduit hydropower facilities are not required to be licensed or exempted by the Commission, developers of qualifying facilities must file a Notice of Intent to Construct a Qualifying Conduit Hydropower Facility with the Commission. On August 28, 2014, the City of Berlin, New Hampshire's Water Works filed such a Notice of Intent. The proposed Ammonoosuc Water Treatment Plant Hydroelectric Project would have an installed capacity of 21 kilowatts (kW) and would be located on the existing 16-inch-diameter raw water transmission main immediately upstream from the pressure-reducing valve for the City of Berlin's water treatment plant. The project would have an estimated annual generating capacity of 85 megawatt-hours.

    The newly streamlined process can work quickly. On September 10, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission staff issued a preliminary determination that the proposal satisfies the requirements for a qualifying conduit hydropower facility, which is not required to be licensed or exempted from licensing. The Commission then posted this preliminary determination for public comment for 45 days.

    No public comments were received, so on October 31, Commission staff issued its written determination that the Ammonoosuc Water Treatment Plant Hydroelectric Project meets the qualifying criteria under section 30(a) of the Federal Power Act, and is not required to be licensed under Part I of the Federal Power Act.

    With this finding in hand just 64 days after filing its application, the city water department can continue securing the remaining approvals necessary to develop the Ammonoosuc Water Treatment Plant Hydroelectric Project. Securing a FERC hydropower license can be a major endeavor, so the streamlined regulatory treatment now available to qualifying conduit hydropower facilities can be a major advantage. How many other water treatment plants and other conduit owners will follow the Berlin Water Works' path and develop their own hydroelectricity assets using this easier regulatory process?