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Dam Removal Policy Carved in Stone

Fortnightly Magazine - April 15 1995

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has refused to reconsider its December 14, 1994, policy statement on hydroelectric plant decommissioning. That policy upholds the FERC's authority to deny new project licenses when existing licenses expire and to order owners to remove a dam during the relicensing process (Docket Nos. RM93-23-000, RM93-23-001). Commissioner James J. Hoecker noted that the FERC has received petitions challenging its authority, but added that other parties feel the FERC should have gone farther and established a national or dam-specific decommissioning fund.

Commissioner Vicky A. Bailey once again offered the lone dissent, favoring reconsideration. Bailey was not comforted by the FERC's expectation that decommissioning would be necessary only in rare circumstances, adding that it would interfere with project financing. Commissioner Donald F. Santa, Jr. agreed with Bailey that denial of relicensing authority may impair financing opportunities for improvements. Noting that the National Hydropower Association has raised the same objection, he nevertheless concluded: "It's pretty much something we had to do." Santa contended that he would never take the decommissioning option lightly. Chair Elizabeth A. Moler added that although risks are inherent in the expiration of a license, the FERC offers licensees a modicum of certainty. She said that the FERC hopes to have reviewed the majority of licenses by the end of 1995. t

Lori A. Burkhart is an associate legal editor of PUBLIC UTILITIES



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