Small Hydro Council

The National Hydropower Association’s Small Hydro Council released an initial report in July 2010 offering proposed solutions to increase development of small hydro. Read More.

Small hydro

Small hydro is low-cost and low-impact

While it is a cost-efficient technology, small hydro faces some unique challenges. Among them, the up-front investment in time and resources required to obtain project approvals can be a significant burden for small hydro developers. Licensing costs are largely the same regardless of the size of the installation. However, small projects bring in less revenue compared to projects that generate more power, making it more difficult for small project developers to absorb these costs.

Efficient permitting can help grow small hydro capacity

Small hydro projects must obtain a FERC license or license exemption, which can be a long and complicated process. And while recent progress in addressing development barriers has been made, there is more work still to be done.

In August 2010, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and the State of Colorado signed a memorandum of understanding on small hydro, simplifying the procedures for developing projects in the state. The pilot program marks an important step toward a more efficient licensing and regulatory processes for hydro projects. FERC has also taken steps to improve outreach to project developers and has implemented web-based enhancements to ease the small hydro licensing process.

Read the FERC Memoradum of Understanding here.

Interest in small hydro is increasing: in 2013, Congress unanimously passed a bill removing certain small conduit projects from FERC oversight while maintaining existing state environmental protections.  It also made sure certain small projects could qualify for exemptions. This was in response to an upward trend in interest from small developers at FERC.  With that rapid growth comes the need to build upon these efforts and offer greater support for low-impact projects. Greater intergovernmental cooperation, improvements to the exemption process and more R&D funding can help spur development of small hydro. Meanwhile, the vast majority of already permitted non-federal projects — 89 percent — are small, at 30MW capacity or less.

The National Hydropower Association stands ready to work with FERC, other agencies, and stakeholders to implement an even more effective process for small hydro projects.