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A Maine sporting camp has proposed developing an off-grid micro-hydropower project to provide it electricity. Nicatous Lake Lodge and Cabins LLC proposes to develop the micro-hydro project at its remote property near Burlington, Maine. A filing made by the camp earlier this spring has triggered a federal review process to evaluate whether the project will require a license or exemption under the Federal Power Act.
Under federal law, most hydropower projects cannot be constructed, operated, or maintained without licensing under the Federal Power Act. But some projects (typically off-grid or remote ones) fall outside the Federal Power Act's jurisdiction. To reduce uncertainty about what regulations might apply, Section 23(b)(1) of the Federal Power Act requires an entity proposing a new project to 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.
When a developer files a Declaration of Intention with the Commission, the Federal Power Act requires the Commission to investigate and determine if the project would affect the interests of interstate or foreign commerce. The Commission also determines whether or not the project: (1) would be located on a navigable waterway; (2) would occupy public lands or reservations of the United States; (3) would utilize surplus water or water power from a government dam; or (4) would be located on a non-navigable stream over which Congress has Commerce Clause jurisdiction and would be constructed or enlarged after 1935. Each of these evaluations supports a key jurisdictional finding under the Federal Power Act; collectively, they can determine whether or not licensing is required.
Other recently proposed micro-hydro projects illustrate how the Commission evaluates whether or not a license or exemption will be required. For example, the Commission found that licensing or exemption was required for the Patton Colorado Hydropower Project, which would be grid-tied. But that no license is required for the Egnaczak Net Zero Hydro Project in Massachusetts, which would have no connection to the interstate electric grid.
This jurisdictional determination is now underway for the Nicatous micro-hydro project. On March 15, 2016, the sporting camp owner submitted a Declaration of Intention to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. That Declaration of Intent describes the project site as about 15 miles away from the nearest electric utility grid, where Nicatous Stream leaves Nicatous Lake. The project does not rely on a dam, although the remains of a former dam are located nearby. Instead, an intake in the lake would supply water to a low head (60 inches or less) PowerPal micro-hydroelectric generator, rated at 1,000 watts power. Power from the generator would be fed into the lodge's electric system, not which is not connected to any utility grid.
On May 10, 2016, the Commission issued its notice of the filing, setting a 30-day deadline for filing comments, protests, and motions to intervene. Commission action on the filing could follow later this year.