Emissions, Hydroelectric

New hydro policy may mean problems for renewable energy trade group

Feb. 20, 2001–A new fish passage proposal published in the Federal Register has a renewable energy trade group scratching its head.

The proposal, published in the Federal Register at the close of the Clinton Administration by the Departments of the Interior and Commerce, expands regulators’ unilateral “fishway” prescription authority to include passage of all forms of “freshwater, estuarine and marine animal life other than mammals and birds.”

This list would presumably include frogs, snails, snakes, sponges, aquatic insects and anything else that lives in the water, according the National Hydropower Association (NHA), which is opposed to the policy.

The proposal, the NHA said, would give government agents broad new latitude in determining the operations, future plans, and ultimately the economic viability of hydroelectric projects, not only by expanding the definition of a fish, but also by expanding the definition of a fishway from the original language in the Energy Policy Act of 1992.

The trade group called for the immediate rescission of the policy, saying that the potential impact on generation capacity and the cost of electricity was “staggering.”

“Literally thousands of megawatts of clean, renewable and reliable generation capacity could be affected and tens of billions of dollars could be expended without even passing acknowledgement by the departments of the public interest,” said the association in its concluding comments.

In the 1992 Energy Policy Act, Congress limited fishway prescriptions to “physical structures, facilities and devices” as well as project operations that may control the effectiveness of those structures. The policy would broaden the definition to include projects’ operating schedules as well as water spill flow temperature, and level. It also would include studies, in-stream flow requirements and the possibility of re-engineering of fishways under the authority previously reserved for prescribing fish passage structures only, according to the NHA.

“The policy achieves exactly the result that Congress was trying to avoid,” said the group, “namely, that the departments gain control over all aspects of a project’s operations and related flows.”

The proposal comes at a time when the FERC hydro licensing process has come under increased scrutiny. The Interior’s U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and Commerce’s National Marine Fisheries Service can under Section 18 prescribe a fishway. Both agencies may also recommend changes in the operations under Section 10 of the FPA where all participants in a licensing proceeding may comment and the FERC may balance environmental interests against other public interests.

Some industry members have complained that the current licensing process results in lost generation through relicensing and prevents new hydropower development. In May, FERC will report to Congress as mandated by Section 603 of the Energy Act of 2000 on ways to make the process faster and cheaper.

For more information, visit the National Hydropower Association’s web site at www.hydro.org.