FERC update 7/27/17

Finally, the long-awaited study plan determination (FERC 2017 Determination) of the Initial Study Review (ISR) by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) Office of Energy Projects was made public June 22, 2017.

SRC has dedicated countless hours into every step of the process and will continue to do so until the project is terminated. FERC now considers the application in abeyance (which puts the dam on hold) because no work is being done on the project. The determination also indicated that before restarting the process the state would need to “demonstrate a firm financial commitment” to the project. The ISR is a significant milestone in the pre-licensing process of the federal hydroelectric licensing process.
Since 2015, AEA has asked for and was granted an extension of time at every opportunity. Each time FERC accommodated AEA in a requested delay and allowed them to continue to file thousands of pages of new data beyond the first year study work. Every time new information was submitted, FERC and stakeholder requests to process the new information extended the time frame forward, extending the expected determination period by many months.

Besides the actual determination, FERC dealt with Governor Walker’s August 2016 request to hold the licensing process in abeyance. FERC states “it considers the process in abeyance” because no study work is being done. The process can be restarted. But a firm financial commitment by the applicant is necessary with the caveat that the current study data could be considered stale i.e. outdated. Scoping and modifications might be necessary to the study plan. The study data must be adequate to inform FERC about licensing conditions and to carry out the Draft Environmental Impact Study under the National Environmental Policy Act.

The next step would be the completion of the Updated Study Report (USR). With a completed USR and more engineering work, the state could file a draft license application, a significant step.

Stakeholders’ requests for study modifications and new study requests were filed by June 23, 2016 by nine government agencies, 12 NGOs, and four individuals. Thirty-five studies had modification requests. Modifications in 17 studies were approved in part. Study modifications for 18 studies were not accepted. The one new study request was denied.

Positive determinations:

  • Specifically, FERC agreed with stakeholders that additional study data is needed in aquatic habitat and riverine systems.
  • The Recreation Resources Study (12.5), River Recreation Flow and Access Study (12.7) and Transportation Resources Study (15.7) will require study and analysis from Willow Creek (River Mile 50) to Susitna Station River (Mile 29.9). This is a big win for the Community Councils of Talkeetna and Willow and supported by the National Park Service.
  • FERC said that it is premature for the applicant to assert that there will be no project impacts on the flows of the Lower Susitna River.


Negative determinations:

  • The modification request by many stakeholders for a Susitna River Basin-wide climate change impact study was denied.
  • FERC refused to consider Greenhouse Gas Emissions from reservoir inundation, near-surface permafrost melting, and cement manufacturing emissions.
  • The National Valuation Study of a free flowing Susitna River was denied.
For those of you seeking a deeper dive into this process, FERC’s determination extensively reviewed the background of the ILP study plan for this project in its cover letter. This is a good reference to anyone that wants to learn more about this procedure.
SRC has been working to stop this project since 2011, working with our partners, we have used the best available science to show the adverse consequences of this project. We will continue to fight for long-term protections for this river to and to terminate this proposal to protect our pristine river as a vital part of our economy, environment, and communities. Over the next few months, SRC will be studying, analyzing and summarizing for its members the 254-page determination filing.