No License is Needed for Small, Off-Grid Hydroelectric Systems

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No License is Needed for Small, Off-Grid Hydroelectric Systems

The ruling, triggered by a Massachusetts couple's desire to convert a water mill to power generation, is a big win for micro-hydro.
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Photo: The Berkshire Eagle

Green Builder Media

Tuesday, April 19, 2016 - 8:00am

CAMPAIGN: Energy Solutions


Federal hydropower regulators have granted reconsideration of a 2015 order finding licensing required for an off-grid micro-hydropower project proposed in Massachusetts.  Based on newly submitted evidence that the proposed project would not be connected to an interstate grid, the order granting reconsideration finds that Section 23(b)(1) of the Federal Power Act does not require licensing of the proposed Egnaczak Net Zero Hydro Project.

The case involves a project proposed by Kenneth and Susan Egnaczak, to be located at an existing water-powered mill complex on the Hoosic River in Cheshire, Massachusetts.  The so-called "Egnaczak Net Zero Hydro Project" would have a total generating capacity of 10.7 kilowatts.  The power would be used at a home and workshop proposed for construction along the river.

Under Section 23(b)(1) of the Federal Power Act, an entity proposing a hydropower project must generally file with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission either a hydropower license application, or a Declaration of Intention to determine if the proposed project requires a license.  The Egnaczaks filed a Declaration of Intention for the project in February 2015.  On September 11, 2015, Commission staff issued an order finding that the Federal Power Act requires a license to be issued for the project's construction, maintenance, and operation.

Section 23(b)(1) of the Federal Power Act requires non-federal off-grid hydroelectric systems to be licensed if they fall into any of four categories: (1) is located on “navigable waters of the United States;” (2) occupies lands or reservations of the United States; (3) uses surplus water or water power from a federal dam; or (4) is located on a non-navigable stream which is subject to the authority of Congress under the Commerce Clause, affects the interests of interstate or foreign commerce, and is constructed or enlarged after August 26, 1935.

In its September 2015 order on the Egnaczak project, Commission staff analyzed the facts as applied to these facts.  On category 1, staff found that there is insufficient evidence to determine whether the Hoosic River is navigable at the project site.  Staff readily dispensed with categories 2 and 3, finding that the project would neither occupy any public lands or reservations of the United States nor use surplus water or waterpower from a Federal government dam.

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