Major Players in the Licensing Process
Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)
FERC regulates all non-federal dams that generate electricity anywhere in the U.S. The Federal Power Act requires FERC to give “equal consideration” to power and non-power uses of the river. The licensing process takes a minimum of five years and the resulting license will govern project operations for the next 30 to 50 years.
When a hydropower dam approaches license expiration, it is the owner’s responsibility to work with FERC and other stakeholders to ensure proper information is available. Based upon this information, a decision is made to determine how the project should be operated for the life of the new license.
State and Federal Agencies
Under the Federal Power Act, FERC is required to receive comments and incorporate conditions from state and federal agencies related to their authority to protect fish and wildlife or federal lands affected by the project. Depending on the agency’s authority, conditions for the new license can be recommendations to FERC or mandatory requirements.
Agencies commonly involved in the licensing process include the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA fisheries), California Department of Fish and Game, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Bureau of Indian Affairs, the National Parks Service and the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The Clean Water Act authorizes the SWRCB to issue a water quality certification for each project that addresses how the project impacts water temperature, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. FERC cannot issue a license without a water quality certification or a waiver from the SWRCB.
Native American Tribes
The Federal Power Act requires FERC to solicit and consider recommendations made by Native American tribes affected by the hydropower project. Additionally, projects located on tribal reservations may only be granted a license if they do not interfere or are consistent with the purpose for which the reservation exists. FERC designates a Tribal Liaison to work with tribes in government-to-government consultations.
Because FERC must give equal consideration to both power and non-power uses of the river, the licensing process offers a meaningful opportunity for members of the public, including non-governmental organizations, to participate. Local stakeholders bring an intimate understanding of project impacts to the licensing process and provide valuable insight into the management of future operations.