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Bureau of Reclamation Supplemental Report Identifies Conduits with Hydropower Potential

By Joel Greene

The U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation (“Reclamation”) has recently added 373 existing Reclamation conduits and canals, with the combined potential of generating an additional 365,219 megawatt-hours of hydropower annually, to its prior year’s Report that had identified 191 existing Reclamation dam and reservoir sites with a potential of 1.2 million MWh of power annually.  Both reports may be viewed at www.usbr.gov/power.

The March 2012 report (released April 12, 2012), entitled “Site Inventory and Hydropower Energy Assessment of Reclamation Owned Conduits,” finds that while sites were identified in 13 of the 17 western states, approximately 70% of the capacity and energy potential on Reclamation owned conduits is located in Colorado, Wyoming and Oregon.  In Arizona, twenty-six canal sites were identified with a potential installed capacity of approximately 5 MW and potential annual energy production of 28,464,753 kWh.

Organized by region and by state, the report identifies for each canal site: the structure type, potential installed capacity, potential annual energy, design head, maximum turbine flow, plant factor, months of potential generation, distance to closest distribution or transmission line, and available flow data period. A minimum head for a technically feasible micro-hydropower project was determined to be 5 feet; and only sites with at least 4 months of annual operation that could produce 50kW of capacity based on gross head and the design flow of the canal were included in the Report.

While this latest Report may assist irrigation districts, cities, municipalities, and cooperatives in determining whether to study the feasibility of developing the hydropower potential of the identified sites, it is also designed to assist private developers interested in hydropower development utilizing these resources. To that end, the authors have alerted potential developers to the jurisdictional split between Reclamation and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) over hydropower development at Reclamation facilities.  Following a basket of cases in the 1980’s challenging FERC’s jurisdiction over private development at Reclamation facilities, procedures for handling such cases were resolved through a Memorandum of Understanding between Reclamation (Lease of Power Privilege Process) and FERC (Licensing and Exemption procedures) in the late 1990’s.  Jennings Strouss attorneys represented entities involved in certain of those cases. In the event of a conflict, those procedures will be instrumental in determining the appropriate agency’s jurisdiction, with the outcome dependent on the authorizing legislation for the particular project.

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