Breaking News: Hydro Currents

Issue 2 and Volume 31.

Obama renominates Norris, names Clark to FERC

President Obama has announced the renomination of Commissioner John Norris to a second term on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. A Democrat lawyer and state utility regulator from Iowa, Norris was first named to the commission by Obama in 2009. His initial term expires this year.

Prior to his service at FERC, Norris was chief of staff to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack and former chief of staff to then Iowa Gov. Vilsack, a former chairman of the Iowa Democratic Party, and chairman of the Iowa Utilities Board. Norris is a 1995 graduate of the University of Iowa College of Law, after receiving an undergraduate degree from Simpson College in Iowa.

And in January, President Obama nominated Republican Tony Clark of the North Dakota Public Service Commission to FERC, succeeding Commissioner Marc Spitzer who left FERC in December.

Spitzer, a Republican lawyer from Arizona whose term expired in June 2011, was able to remain in office until his successor was appointed. He announced his departure prior to the last commission meeting of 2011.

During his tenure, Spitzer said hydropower would continue to be an important component of the nation’s energy mix. “I believe that hydropower is an essential part of the U.S.’s energy mix, is essential to the reliability of the electric grid, and supports competitive electric markets by providing low-cost energy reserves and ancillary services,” Spitzer said in remarks to Hydro Review magazine.

Spitzer was nominated to FERC in 2006. Before that, he was elected to the Arizona Corporation Commission in 2000. He previously served as an Arizona state senator and was a tax attorney with KPMG Peat Marwick. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Dickinson College and a law degree from the University of Michigan.

Clark has served as senior member of the North Dakota utility regulator since 2000. He is immediate past president of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and a former North Dakota Labor Commissioner and state legislator. He holds bachelor’s degrees in political science and history education from North Dakota State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of North Dakota.

The renomination of Norris and nomination of Clark require Senate confirmation.

No more than three members of the same party may serve on the five-member commission. The Republican is Commissioner Philip Moeller, whose term expires in 2015. The two Democrats are Chairman Jon Wellinghoff, whose term expires in 2012, and Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur, whose term expires in 2014.

Hydropower gains support in bipartisan bill

Two congresswomen have introduced bipartisan legislation that would promote development in the hydropower industry.

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2011 (H.R. 3680), introduced by representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) in December 2011, promotes the development of small hydropower and conduit projects. The bill also aims to shorten regulatory timeframes of certain types of hydropower projects.

In brief, the bill has substantive language that would:

  • Increase the small hydro exemption from 5 MW to 10 MW;
  • Remove conduit projects under 5 MW from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission jurisdiction and increase the conduit exemption to 40 MW for all projects;
  • Provide FERC the ability to extend preliminary permits;
  • Require FERC to investigate a two-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed loop pumped storage;
  • Require the Department of Energy to further study the potential from pumped storage and also conduit projects; and
  • Require a report on the federal hydropower memorandum of understanding.
The bill is similar to one cleared by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. That one, called the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011, was introduced in March 2011. It currently awaits action by the full Senate.

FERC licenses first tidal pilot project, 1.05-MW Roosevelt Island

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has issued its first hydrokinetic pilot project license for a tidal project, the 1.05-MW Roosevelt Island Tidal Energy project, on the East River in New York, N.Y.

Marine hydropower developer Verdant Power filed an application with FERC in December 2010 for the RITE project, seeking permission to install up to 30 tidal turbine-generators on the river bottom off Roosevelt Island. From 2006 to 2008, Verdant demonstrated a Free Flow System including six full-scale turbines, delivering energy to businesses in New York City.

FERC developed the pilot license process in 2008 to allow developers to test new hydrokinetic technologies, determine appropriate sites, and confirm the’ environmental effects without compromising FERC oversight. Pilot licenses must be small; short-term; in an environmentally non-sensitive area; removable and able to shut down on short notice; and removed, with the site restored, before the license expires, unless a new license is issued.

FERC issued a 10-year pilot license January 23, authorizing Verdant to conduct a three-phase development:

  • Phase 1: three 35-kW, 5-meter-diameter axial-flow Kinetic Hydropower System turbines mounted on a single tri-frame in year 1;
  • Phase 2: nine additional 35-kW units mounted on three tri-frames in year 3; and
  • Phase 3: 18 additional 35-kW units mounted on six tri-frames in year 5.
The project also includes 480-volt underwater cables from each turbine to shoreline switchgear vaults that interconnect with a control room and interconnection points. It also includes facilities for navigation safety and operation.

Once Phase 3 is completed, the RITE project is to have annual generation of 2.4 GWh utilizing tidal flows of the East River, actually a 17-mile tidal strait connecting Long Island Sound with the Atlantic Ocean in New York Harbor. The units yaw with the flow, enabling them to generate during both ebb and flow cycles.

Clarified interpretation could change U.S. Fish and Wildlife policy

A new federal policy will clarify which species or populations of species are eligible for protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to a release from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The proposed policy will define “significant portion of its range” in the ESA. The phrase is not defined but appears in the statutory definitions of “endangered species” and “threatened species.”

The policy would dictate that FWS and NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service could list a species if it is endangered or threatened in a “significant portion of its range,” even if that species is not endangered or threatened throughout all its range. Under the proposed policy, a portion of a species’ range would be defined as “significant” if its contribution to the viability of the species is such that, without the portion, the species would be in danger of extinction.

The goal of such an interpretation would allow ESA to protect a species before large-scale decline occurs throughout the species’ entire range, according to the release.

Hydroelectric development in Quebec takes hit with Plan Nord revision

A measure being hailed as the “largest environmental conservation project on the planet” could close as much as 30% of Quebec’s northern territory from hydro development, sources report.

The proposal is part of a new set of guidelines for Quebec’s “Plan Nord,” unveiled by Quebec premier Jean Charest. Announced in May 2011, this is a 25-year, US$80.5 billion plan that seeks to protect 50% of the province’s northern wilderness territory. Originally, Plan Nord called for only 20% of the wilderness to be protected.

When first enacted, Plan Nord sought to increase Quebec’s renewable energy output and also included measures for mining, forestry, tourism and wildlife development.

However, sources say pressure from various environmental protection groups and native Inuit tribes have led the government to scale back its aggressive energy development plan, which once included as much as 2,000 MW of hydroelectric power from about 50 potential sites.

Alaska agency files notice to license 600-MW Susitna-Watana

The Alaska Energy Authority has notified the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission it will proceed with licensing the 600-MW Susitna-Watana project on Alaska’s upper Susitna River.

AEA filed a Notice of Intent to license the project, which it has been studying under a FERC preliminary permit. The Dec. 29, 2011, notice marks the beginning of the formal licensing process and is required should AEA meet its goal of submitting a license application by mid-September 2015. In the meantime, AEA must complete site surveys, preliminary engineering work, environmental impact assessments, and financing plans.

While the dam’s design is still being evaluated, AEA proposed a concrete gravity or rockfill dam 700 to 800 feet tall and with a crest length of at least 2,700 feet. It would create a 39-mile-long reservoir 90 river-miles northeast of Talkeetna, Alaska.

Based on ongoing feasibility studies and updates to Alaska’s Railbelt Integrated Resource Plan, the project’s capacity could be as large as 800 MW. The three-unit project is to be constructed with an additional bay that could accommodate a future capacity increase, AEA said.

Licensing the project is expected to take six years. Construction is to take five years, with first power delivered by 2023. Susitna-Watana would generate energy using the glacial waters of the upper Susitna River, transmitting it north to the interior and south to south-central Alaska along new and existing transmission lines.

Buffett’s MidAmerican group forms renewable energy company

MidAmerican Energy, part of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc., has created a new company to oversee its green energy interests.

The new company, called MidAmerican Renewables LLC, will be based in Des Moines, Iowa, and will include limited liability companies in the hydro, wind, geothermal and solar sectors. MidAmerican Energy – an electric and natural gas utility that serves parts of Iowa, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota – will remain unchanged.

MidAmerican owns 50% of the 10-MW Wailuku hydro plant in Hawaii. Power generated is sold to Hawaii Electric Light Company Inc. under a long-term power purchase agreement.

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