Microhydro and permitting

If you are considering developing a water resource to generate electricity, there are a few things you need to consider and action to take:

  1. Determine if the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has any jurisdiction over your project. There is an exemption process that FERC uses to make that determination, and you start by completing an Initial Consultation Document (ICD) relative to a 5 megawatt exemption (the largest system they will consider exempting). No system is too small. In the words of one FERC representative “We exempted a 40 watt system.”
  2. Contact your state water engineering and permitting sections to get their input on stream alterations or potential biological impacts your project may have on the water body. They will determine if any studies need to be completed, and will usually suggest a site visit to gain a better understanding of your site. The folks I spoke with in Vermont suggested collecting a year of flow data from your stream as a starting point to help make the determination of potential impact from “redirecting” the stream through your turbine.

You may have heard that the government agencies only have jurisdiction on “navigable waterways.” Common sense would indicate that most of the small streams in the hills of New England would not meet the “navigable waterway” definition; however, common sense is not making that determination. The federal government decides what constitutes a navigable waterway, and several court cases have led to the determination that almost any body of water is navigable. Therefore, any surface water that flows is subject to the state and federal laws governing their use.

So, if you are planning on developing a surface water resource to generate electricity, you might want to start by making a few phone calls to the local, state, and federal agencies that may have a stake in making your project feasible. If we can help in any way, please contact us.