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Small Hydropower Permits

Although small hydropower generation may be easier to implement than before, hydroelectric facilities are still subject to regulation by the State of Colorado and the FERC. Mechanical hydropower projects do not produce electricity and therefore do not need to go through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) permitting process.

Colorado Permitting

At the state level, small hydropower permitting has become much easier thanks to Colorado HB14-1030 “Concerning the establishment of incentives for the development of hydroelectric energy systems” signed into law on May 31st, 2014. To operate small hydropower facilities, the State of Colorado recognized the need for streamlined regulations that allows for new hydropower projects and so it established a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with FERC. As stated in the MOU, “The Commission (FERC) and Colorado have a mutual interest in streamlining and simplifying regulations for authorizing small hydropower projects.” At its core, this MOU gives the State of Colorado the ability to simplify the permitting regulations and encourage the small scale development of hydropower projects as a source for clean, renewable, and local energy while safe-guarding environmental and other non-developmental resources. When the MOU was signed in 2010, small hydropower projects were being permitted in as little as six months, instead of the two to three years previously.

Federal Permitting

At the federal level, hydroelectric projects are only feasible because of the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013. Before this Act was signed, the FERC permitting process would take years and cost tens of thousands of dollars for even the smallest hydroelectric projects. Among other things, the Act exempts certain conduit hydropower facilities from the licensing requirements of the Federal Power Act. This licensing exemption applies when the hydropower facility is added to a conduit, such as a pipeline or ditch, where the primary purpose of the conduit is not for generating electricity. This makes on-farm hydroelectric generation feasible by allowing irrigators using pipes for conveying water to their farms to simply add a hydroelectric turbine to their existing conveyance infrastructure without having to go through a costly regulatory process. In this scenario, the FERC application process begins by submitting a Notice of Intent to Construct a Qualifying Conduit Hydropower Facility with the Commission. For an irrigation hydroelectric project, the Notice of Intent (NOI) usually consists of about five pages, including a schematic drawing of the hydropower facility and a location map. The NOI provides a detailed description of the project and the primary purpose of the conduit. According to the FERC website, the Commission “will make an initial determination within 15 days. [Their] initial determination will be either to reject the notice of intent or to determine the facility meets the qualifying criteria.” The FERC will provide a list of the missing information if more information is needed. Once you gather the missing information, you can revise the notice of intent and re-file it at any time. If FERC initially determines your facility meets the qualifying criteria:

  • FERC will issue a public notice providing the public with 30 days to file motions to intervene
  • 45 days to provide comments contesting whether your facility meets the qualifying criteria

If there are no public objections to the small hydroelectric facility, FERC will issue a letter deeming the project a “qualified conduit hydropower facility”. Unless a statement of opposition is filed by the public, the entire FERC permitting process should take a maximum of 60 days. Installation of the hydroelectric system should not begin until this process is complete, so it is recommended that the NOI should be submitted early in the design process.

Last updated: September 14, 2017 at 15:14 pm