Hydropower Plant Licensing
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is responsible for issuing licenses for the construction of a new hydropower projects, relicensing existing projects, and overseeing ongoing project operations, including dam safety inspections and environmental monitoring.
Most hydroelectric projects in the U.S. are operating under their original licenses that were issued for 50 years. In order to operate beyond the original license period, a facility must obtain a new FERC license. A number of facilities in Idaho are in or soon will be in the process of obtaining new licenses, including the large Hells Canyon Complex (Brownlee, Oxbow, and Hells Canyon Dams).
Before FERC may license or relicense non-federal hydroelectric dams, state certification that the project will not violate state water quality standards is required. A company that has applied for a FERC license must request a §401 certification from DEQ. DEQ must grant or deny certification within one year of receipt of the request. If the state has not granted or denied the certification within one year of the request, certification is considered waived. A large project, like the Hells Canyon complex, often requires an extended period of time for certification. Because FERC licenses are usually complex, DEQ is generally involved in the project long before the company officially applies for certification.
Ninety days before it must grant or deny the certification (nine months into the 12-month period), DEQ provides notice to the public that it has made its preliminary decision regarding §401 certification and provides the public the opportunity to comment on the decision. The applicant must provide a copy of the §401 certification to FERC before the final license is issued.