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Susitna Dam Update: Susitna-Watana Hydro: FERC letter regarding study requests

In response to questions regarding the study request process, FERC distributed the letter below through its e-Library. In case you do not receive FERC email notices. You can file to receive notices from FERC online

In summary, requests for studies and comments on FERC’s Scoping Document 1 and the Alaska Energy Authority’s Pre-Application Document (PAD) for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project must be filed with FERC by May 31, 2012.

AEA held a series of workgroup meetings and in an effort to assist agencies who often have limited resources, the Alaska Energy Authority created study requests for the 2013-14 field seasons. They are available on the project website Susitna-Watanahydro.org (studies). These study requests will be used to develop the formal Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project study plan.

FERC’s letter outlines the licensing process to this point, and what options stakeholders have as part of the study planning process.  No stakeholder is obligated to file study requests, but can request modifications or suggest additional studies that meet the FERC-outlined criteria.

 

FEDERAL ENERGY REGULATORY COMMISSION
WASHINGTON, D.C. 20426

May 10, 2012

OFFICE OF ENERGY PROJECTS
Project No. 14241-000—Alaska
Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project
Alaska Energy Authority

To the Party Addressed

Reference: Reminder that Comments and Requests for Studies are Due May 31, 2012

Dear Susitna-Watana Stakeholder:

As you are probably aware, requests for studies, comments on the Commission’s
scoping document, and comments on Alaska Energy Authority’s (AEA) pre-application
document (PAD) for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project must be filed with the
Commission by May 31, 2012.

During a recent aquatics workgroup meeting, there was significant discussion
regarding whether there is a need craft study requests given AEA’s proposed 2012 study
plans and 2013-14 study requests, and if so, how an entity should do so. Participants in
the workgroup meeting asked if the Commission could share any examples from similar
cases. This letter serves as that guidance is being provided to all stakeholders on the
Commission’s mailing list for this project.

Before providing the requested guidance, a review of where we are in the process,
what is required by the regulations by each party, and what has transpired is important
given the circumstances of this case.

BACKGROUND
On December 29, 2011, AEA, pursuant to the regulations for implementing the
Integrated Licensing Process (ILP), filed its Notice of Intent to prepare and file a license
application for the Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project. As required by the
Commission’s regulations (18 CFR section 5.5 and 5.6), the filing included a PAD that
described existing information relevant to the project, contained a preliminary list of
issues, and contained a preliminary list of studies that AEA would conduct to fill
information gaps.

On February 23, 2012, Commission staff issued scoping document 1 containing
staff’s preliminary list of issues that would be addressed in its Environmental Impact
Statement (EIS) and solicited study requests and comments by April 27, 2012.

Commission staff held seven scoping meetings between March 26 and 29, 2012, to gather
public and agency comment on the issues related to the project and the scope of analysis
of the issues in the EIS. At the request of several federal resource agencies, on April 2,
2012, the Commission extended the due date for entities to file comments on PAD, study
requests, and comments on the Commission’s scoping document to May 31, 2012.

Between AEA’s December 29, 2011, filing of the PAD and the present, AEA has
established resource-specific workgroups, held a number of meetings to discuss
information needs, and worked to collaboratively develop study plans for various study
efforts it has agreed to conduct in 2012. To further assist agencies and others with limited
resources, AEA prepared draft study requests for studies that would be conducted in 2013
and beyond. None of these efforts are required by the Commission’s regulations.

CRAFTING STUDY REQUESTS
The ILP regulations require that anyone requesting an applicant for a hydropower
license to conduct a study, must file the study request with the Commission (18 CFR 5.9)
and for each study requested, the study proponent must address seven criteria to support
the request for the study. In this instance, AEA has prepared “study requests” that outline
studies AEA intends to conduct in 2013 and beyond. In crafting the study requests, AEA
attempted to address the seven study criteria. Building on this platform, AEA will
prepare detailed proposed study plans and file them with the Commission and
stakeholders by July 16, 2012.

So, the question is: what must stakeholders file. The answer is: it depends on the
level of comfort each stakeholder has with what has been proposed and the basis for
which the study has been proposed. Several alternatives, or combinations of alternatives,
are possible.

(1) Provide No Study Requests. No stakeholder is obligated to file study requests.
Moreover, if a stakeholder is satisfied that the studies as outlined by AEA will gather the
information they believe is necessary to address the issues, then they do not have to
request studies. Just because a stakeholder does not request a study does not prevent a
stakeholder from participating in future discussion to work out the details on the study
plan.

(2) Adopt Certain Studies As Proposed By AEA. If a stakeholder believes that
certain information should be gathered, and is satisfied that certain studies as outlined by
AEA will gather that information, then the stakeholder may want to identify those studies
they believe are necessary and that they support. This is particularly true if the
stakeholder is a Federal agency with authority to provide mandatory conditions on a
license pursuant to section 4(e) of the Federal Power Act (FPA), fishway prescriptions
pursuant to section 18 of the FPA, or agency with authority to issue a water quality
certificate pursuant to the Clean Water Act. In that case, the agency should also explain
how the information that would be gathered pertains directly to the exercise of their
respective mandatory conditioning authorities.

(3) Adopt Certain Studies with Modifications. If a stakeholder believes that
certain studies proposed by AEA will gather the necessary information, but only if
modified, the stakeholder can identify the study and explain in detail the needed
modifications. For example, there may be differences of opinion on the scope of the
study. For instance, AEA may have proposed one year of study or a more narrow
geographic study reach and to continue to work with stakeholders to define future efforts
based on the study results. A stakeholder may believe that the first year of studies as
proposed are fine, but that the studies should be conducted for a longer period or include
additional areas. If that were the case, the requester should be as specific as possible in
defining the proposed study area for each study in question in both time (e.g., 1 or more
years) and space (e.g., Susitna River from Watana dam site to the 3 rivers confluence
area, etc.), as may be appropriate. If a tiered-approach to a study is needed (e.g.,
subsequent study needs being contingent on the results from the first study season), then
the study proponent should also identify in detail the possible future studies that would be
implemented and the triggers that would cause those studies to be implemented.
Stakeholders should request all studies that they believe will be necessary to develop a
license application.

It is also critical that the stakeholder explain why the different study scope is
necessary. The explanation should also include the anticipated additional level of effort
and cost, and why what AEA proposed would not be sufficient to meet the stated
information needs. If the requested modifications significantly depart from what AEA is
proposing, it may be prudent for the stakeholder to draft a stand-alone study request
(explained below) to ensure that the study as proposed is fully supported. Of course,
stakeholders can use and build on what AEA has already provided in developing such a
request.

As for an example of a request for a modification of a proposed study, there are
none because most stakeholders either opted to craft a stand-alone study request
addressing all the criteria (explained next) or they chose not to provide a study request
and continued to work through the details with the applicant during the study plan
development process.

(4) Craft a Study Request. If a stakeholder believes that a study should be
conducted and AEA did not propose such a study, then the requester must prepare a study
request addressing each of the seven study criteria. Additional guidance on how to write
a study request can be found in A GUIDE TO UNDERSTANDING AND APPLYING THE
INTEGRATED LICENSING PROCESS STUDY CRITERIA on the Commission’s web page at:
http://www.ferc.gov/industries/hydropower/gen-info/guidelines/guide-studycriteria.pdf.

SUMMARY and NEXT STEPS
Study requests and comments on the Commission’s scoping document are due
May 31, 2012. Study requests form an important part of the foundation of the ILP study
planning process. If a study has not been proposed that a stakeholder believes is needed,
it must file a study request that addresses each of the study criteria. If there are
disagreements between what AEA has committed to in writing and what a stakeholder
believes is needed, it is important to be as specific as possible in defining those
differences. Depending on the significance of the differences, which is a subjective call
on the stakeholder’s part, it may be best for stakeholder to prepare their own stand-alone
study requests to fully support the studies they believe are necessary. Otherwise, a
stakeholder can identify which studies they support, or support with modifications and
explain in detail those modifications.

Based on this input, AEA will prepare a detailed proposed study plan and file it
with the Commission by July 16, 2012. If stakeholder study requests differ from what
AEA ultimately proposes in its proposed study plan, then AEA will need to provide a
justification in its filing for why it thinks that the requested information is not needed.
The discrepancies between what the stakeholders requested and what AEA proposes will
be worked out during the study planning process this summer and fall, with an ultimate
determination on the study plan made by the Commission in its study plan determination
letter by December 14, 2012.

AEA and the stakeholders have established a collaborative working relationship
that, if continued, will foster the quick development of a study plan that meets all parties’
needs. We encourage AEA and the stakeholders to continue this collaborative effort.
However, to have productive and efficient discussions to resolve disagreements over
studies by December, it is critical that everyone understands where the differences in the
perception of study needs lie now.

If you have any questions, please contact David Turner at (502) 202-6091 or
david.turner@ferc.gov.

Sincerely,
Jennifer Hill, Chief
Northwest Branch
Division of Hydropower Licensing

cc: Mailing list
Public Files

Public Outreach Liaison
Alaska Industrial Development and Export Authority
Alaska Energy Authority
Susitna-Watana Hydroelectric Project
411 W. Fourth Avenue, Suite 1, Anchorage, AK 99501
Phone: 907-771-3961
http://susitna-watanahydro.org/

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