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Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

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Small/Low-Impact Hydropower Projects

Exemption or License

Qualifying Conduit Hydropower Facility
Potential conduit exemption site at open flumeCertain hydropower facilities located on non-federally owned conduits with installed capacities up to 5 megawatts (MW) are not required to be licensed or exempted by the Commission. The applicant must file a Notice of Intent to Construct a Qualifying Conduit Hydropower Facility with the Commission, and show that the conduit is not primarily for the generation of electricity and was not licensed or exempted on or before August 9, 2013.

Conduit Exemptions
A small conduit hydroelectric facility up to 40 MW using a man-made conduit operated primarily for non-hydroelectric purposes may be eligible for a conduit exemption. The applicant must have all the real property interests necessary to develop and operate the project or an option to obtain the interests (see 18 CFR 4.31(b)(2) External Link). The conduit on which the project is located is not included as a project work. Applications for exemptions of small hydroelectric conduits are categorically exempt from the requirement for an Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to be prepared by the Commission. However, this does not mean that the Commission cannot require an EA or EIS to be prepared if your project appears to have adverse effects on the environment.

10-MW Exemptions
A small hydroelectric project of 10 MW or less may be eligible for a 10-MW exemption. The applicant must propose to install or add capacity to a project located at a non-federal, pre-2005 dam, or at a natural water feature. The project can be located on federal lands but cannot be located at a federal dam. The applicant must have all the real property interests or an option to obtain the interests in any non-federal lands.

A license from the Commission is required to construct, operate, and maintain a non-federal hydroelectric project that is or would: (a) be located on navigable waters of the United States; (b) occupy U.S. lands; (c) utilize surplus water or water power from a U.S. government dam; or (d) be located on a stream over which Congress has Commerce Clause jurisdiction, where project construction or expansion occurred on or after August 26, 1935, and the project affects the interests of interstate or foreign commerce. Licenses may be issued for up to 50 years terms and must be renewed at the end of each term. A license gives the licensee the power of "eminent domain" to obtain lands or other rights needed to construct, operate, and maintain the hydroelectric project.

For a chart that shows the differences between a conduit exemption, 10-MW exemption, and a license, see: Project Comparison Chart.

This chart provides you with some of the major differences among a conduit exemption, 10-MW exemption, and a license. Using this information can help you determine which exemption or license process best suits your project.