Colorado and FERC Agree to Promote Small-scale Hydropower Projects

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FERC Chairman Jon Wellinghoff and Colorado Governor Bill Ritter signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to streamline the permitting process for small-scale hydropower projects that utilize existing dams or other infrastructures such as canals and conduits.

Under the MOU, Colorado proposes to implement a pilot program to identify and test opportunities to simplify and streamline procedures and regulations for authorizing small scale hydropower projects in an environmentally responsible manner. Colorado would prescreen projects that could qualify for either the ‘conduit exemption’ or ‘5MW exemption’ under FERC’s existing rules before an applicant submits its application for exemption before FERC.

Colorado would use a number of criteria in their prescreening to ensure that the hydropower being developed in environmentally sound. For instance, the projects cannot have increased stream diversion while adding hydropower, or have adverse impacts on water quality, fish passage or recreational resource.

In March 2010, Governor Ritter signed a renewable energy legislation requiring investor-owned utilities to obtain 30 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2020. The MOU notes that there are several hundred potential small hydropower project sites under 5 MW in Colorado with a combined capacity of more than 1,400 MW.