Regulation of Hydro Projects

Access to water and the use, control and diversion of water flows is subject to federal and state regulation. Other regulations apply to any physical alteration of a stream channel or bank that may effect water quality or wildlife habitat. This is true regardless of whether or not the stream is on private property.

There are many local, state, and federal regulations that govern, or will effect, the construction and operation of a hydroelectric power plant. The larger the system, the more complicated, drawn out, and expensive the permitting and approval process will be. Penalties for not having the permits or necessary approvals can be severe. You will not escape the consequences by pleading ignorance. Although the legal process may seem burdensome, the intention of the laws is to protect all users of the resource, including the plant, fish, and animal communities that utilize the water.

When planning a hydroelectric system, your first point of contact should be the city or town engineer. He or she will be the most informed about what restrictions govern the development and/or control of water resources in your area.

The two primary federal agencies that you will need to deal with are the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Try contacting the nearest office to you to see if they will assist you; both may be listed in the U.S. government section of your phone book.

FERC is responsible for licensing all non-federal government hydroelectric projects under its jurisdiction. A hydroelectric project is within the jurisdiction of FERC if any of the following conditions apply: the project is on a navigable waterway; the project will affect interstate commerce (i.e., if the system is to be connected to a regional electric transmission grid); the project uses federal land; or the project will use surplus water or waterpower from a federal dam. You will need to consult with FERC in order to determine whether or not your project falls under FERCís jurisdiction. If it does, then you will need to apply for a license or exemption from FERC. The FERC application process will require contacting and consulting other federal, state and local government agencies, and providing evidence that you have done so.

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission  (FERC)

If your project involves a discharge of dredge or fill material into a watercourse or wetland, you may also need a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. Your local district office of the Corps should help determine if you will need a permit.

US Army Corp of Engineers


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