On Monday, March 2, FERC staff issued three virtually identical orders extending the license terms for 20 hydroelectric projects along the Wisconsin River that have licenses set to expire between 2026 and 2035, to align their license expiration dates and better coordinate the FERC relicensing process. The three orders each address licenses for projects located in certain sub-basins of the Wisconsin River: the northern sub-basin, which includes eight projects; the central sub-basin, which includes 10 projects, and the southern sub-basin, which includes two projects.

The orders were issued in response to a January 2019 application that was part of a broad proposal by 10 licensees to align the license expiration dates for the 20 hydroelectric projects located within a 350-mile stretch of the Wisconsin River. The licensees in the northern sub-basin requested extensions of their license terms until June 30, 2035; those in the central sub-basin requested extensions of their license terms until June 30, 2038, and those in the southern sub-basin requested extensions of their license terms until June 30, 2041. Because the 20 projects’ license terms had varying expiration dates, FERC staff’s orders will result in license term extensions that vary from 4 months to 12 years.

Resource agencies and stakeholder groups generally expressed their support for the proposed license term extensions, but raised some issues for the Commission’s consideration, including that the proposed license term extensions were too long and would excessively delay stakeholder input in relicensing. Other commenters suggested that the license term extensions be conditioned upon certain recreational and environmental enhancements at the projects, and another asserted that license term extensions do not meet the “equal consideration” requirements of the Federal Power Act, as amended by the Electric Consumers Protection Act of 1986.

In granting the requested license term extensions as proposed, FERC staff cited its Policy Statement on Establishing Terms for Hydroelectric Projects, which states that the Commission’s policy is to “coordinate the expiration dates of licenses to the maximum extent possible, to maximize future considerations of cumulative impacts … in contemporaneous proceedings at relicensing.” FERC staff dismissed commenter’s concerns, explaining that the licenses already contain sufficient recreational and environmental protection measures, which would continue under the extended license terms, so the requested extensions do not need to be conditioned on additional mitigation measures. Moreover, staff explained that the Commission has consistently found that alignment of license expiration dates in a river basin is a proper justification for extending a license term, and would permit the Commission, licensees, resource agencies, and other stakeholders to “approach relicensing in a more comprehensive and collaborative way to propose further recreational and environmental enhancements.” Finally, staff dismissed comments filed alleging that the license term extensions violate “equal consideration” requirements, as that requirement only applies to licensing actions that authorize new project works or add new lands to the project, which is not the case in any of the projects subject to the orders.

FERC’s orders are available here, here, and here.