RAPID/Best Practices/FERC Hydropower Licensing: A Review of Utilization of the ILP, TLP, and ALP

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FERC Hydropower Licensing: A Review of Utilization of the ILP, TLP, and ALP

This report provides an analysis of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s (FERC) three licensing procedures available for applicants seeking to develop non-federal hydropower projects.


Hydropower projects subject to FERC jurisdiction, which do not meet the qualification requirements for an exemption from FERC licensing, must complete the FERC hydropower licensing process utilizing one of FERC’s three licensing processes: The Integrated Licensing Process (ILP), Traditional Licensing Process (TLP), or Alternative Licensing Process (ALP). Effective after July 23, 2005, the ILP became the default hydropower licensing process under the Federal Power Act (FPA). 18 CFR § 5.3(a)(2). Any license applicant seeking to use the TLP or ALP is now required to submit to FERC a request to use the TLP or ALP with their Notice of Intent (NOI) and Pre-Application Document (PAD) and receive approval before initiating either of those processes. 18 CFR § 5.3(a)(2).

As shown through the case studies in the full report, the ALP and TLP are still both utilized licensing processes. However, they may not be appropriate for all projects. The case studies provided in the full report highlight that FERC does use its authority to deny the TLP in favor of the default ILP where it finds the TLP is not suitable.

View the full report

Overview of the FERC Hydropower Licensing Process

FERC hydropower regulations include three licensing process types for authorizing non-federal hydropower projects subject to FERC jurisdiction and not eligible for an exemption from FERC licensing. Each of the three licensing processes described in more detail below may be well- suited for licensing a hydropower project based on an individual project’s specifications.


Integrated Licensing Process (ILP)

FERC established the ILP licensing process for non-federal hydropower projects under the FPA to provide a predictable, efficient, and timely licensing process. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – FERC Licensing Processes. The ILP incorporated elements of both the TLP and the ALP to create a licensing process that is both collaborative and structured. The ILP may be the preferred licensing process where a project involves controversial and/or complex issues, stakeholder support for the proposed project is uncertain or stakeholders have conflicting values, and/or a structured timeline is preferred. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – FERC Licensing Processes.

The ILP is distinguished from the other two licensing processes because it: imposes defined deadlines for all participants in the licensing process for preparing and reviewing licensing documents; provides license applicants with increased assistance and involvement from FERC staff during the pre-filing phase licensing process; requires a licensee to engage with federal and state agencies, Indian tribes, and the public early in the process to develop a study plan (i.e., list of required studies), which the licensee must complete in order to adequately evaluate potential engineering, economic, or environmental issues associated with the hydropower project; and requires National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA) scoping during the pre-application phase. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – Matrix Comparing Three Hydropower Licensing Processes; 18 CFR §§ 5.1 – 5.31, Integrated License Application Process. For more information on the ILP see the full report and: FERC Integrated Licensing Process:
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Traditional Licensing Process (TLP)

The license applicant must request FERC’s authorization to use the TLP instead of the ILP and must provide notice of the request to affected resource agencies, Indian tribes, and interested members of the public. 18 CFR § 5.3. The TLP differs from the other two licensing processes because: the license applicant directs the pre-filing phase of the FERC licensing process; the TLP does not set rigid timeframes for completing many pre-filing activities, licensing activities, project review, stakeholder comments, and/or decision making; during the TLP pre-filing phase, the license applicant must provide federal and state resource agencies and Indian tribes with information about the proposed hydropower project; the TLP includes dispute resolution available only upon request to agencies and affected tribes, but FERC’s Director of the Office of Energy Projects opinion is advisory in nature and not binding. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – Matrix Comparing Three Hydropower Licensing Processes; 18 CFR § 4.38(b)(6)(iv). FERC initiates the NEPA scoping process during the post-filing phase, after FERC has accepted the license application for filing and participating stakeholders have had an opportunity to provide comments and recommendations for the FERC license.FERC Handbook for Hydroelectric Project Licensing and 5 MW Exemptions from Licensing; 18 CFR § 4.38; 18 CFR § 16.8. For more information on the TLP see the full report and: FERC Traditional Licensing Process:
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Alternative Licensing Process (ALP)

As with the TLP, the license applicant must request FERC’s permission to use the ALP. 18 CFR § 5.3. The ALP process differs from the other two licensing processes because: the ALP combines pre-filing consultation, the NEPA process, and administrative processes associated with other statutory compliance requirements into a single process. 18 CFR § 4.34(i). The ALP includes dispute resolution available only upon request to agencies and affected tribes, but FERC’s Director of the Office of Energy Projects opinion is advisory in nature and not binding. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – Matrix Comparing Three Hydropower Licensing Processes; 18 CFR § 4.34(i)(6)(vii))). FERC plays an advisory role during the ALP’s pre-filing phase, as the license applicant and other interested parties work to develop a collaborative study plan. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission – Matrix Comparing Three Hydropower Licensing Processes. The license applicant conducts environmental scoping during the pre-filing consultation phase and generally submits a draft Environmental Assessment (EA) or Environment Impact Statement (EIS)—including any preliminary fish and wildlife agency comments, conditions, and recommendations—with the FERC license application. 18 CFR § 4.34(i)(6). For more information on the ALP see the full report and: FERC Alternative Licensing Process:
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Potential Advantages and Challenges of Each Licensing Process

Integrated Licensing Process (ILP)

Potential advantages to using the ILP may include the following:

  • Coordination of multiple resource agency permitting processes
  • Establishment of a formal timeframe for all stakeholders to complete the steps necessary for FERC licensing
  • Assurance that all interested stakeholders will have an opportunity to participate in the FERC licensing process at clearly specified times over the course of the licensing process
  • Early scoping, which helps reduce the number of study and information requests made later in the FERC licensing process, after the license applicant has filed a FERC license application, which may lead to additional time and resources expenditures.


Potential challenges to using the ILP may include the following:

  • Although strict deadlines imposed by the ILP may be helpful to keep participating stakeholders on task, these deadlines may also prove unworkable under some circumstances
  • The ILP may require more time
  • The ILP may be more expensive.


Traditional Licensing Process (TLP)

Potential advantages to using the TLP may include the following:

  • The TLP provides more flexibility for the license applicant and interested stakeholders to complete various steps in the licensing process because it does not have a strict timeline
  • The TLP may be more efficient than the ILP for non-controversial projects without significant environmental concerns
  • The TLP may be less costly than the ILP.


Potential challenges to using the TLP may include the following:

  • Interested parties may find it difficult to know when they can participate in FERC’s decision- making process without a formal licensing schedule
  • FERC staff generally does not assist the license applicant in completing the FERC license application or coordinating pre-filing meetings, scoping, and study requests
  • Important issues identified during FERC’s NEPA scoping process may not be adequately studied under the license applicant’s study plan
  • Without a strict timeframe, resource agencies and other participating stakeholders may request additional studies or information requests later on in the FERC licensing process.


Alternative Licensing Process (ALP)

Potential advantages to using the ALP may include the following:

  • Without a strict timeline, the license applicant and other interested stakeholders have greater flexibility to complete various steps in the licensing process
  • Allows the license applicant and stakeholders to combine the consultation, study, and environmental review processes
  • Earlier scoping and the development of a collaborative preliminary draft NEPA document (applicant-prepared EA or EIS) may help interested parties to clarify and resolve issues relating to controversial projects
  • FERC staff are available to advise the license applicant and other interested stakeholders as they work together to complete pre-application activities.


Potential challenges to using the ALP may include the following:

  • Interested parties may find it difficult to know when they can participate in the decision-making process
  • Generally, requires the license applicant and stakeholders to reach a consensus on required studies
  • Without a strict timeframe, resource agencies and other participating stakeholders may request additional studies later on in the FERC licensing process
  • Important issues identified during FERC’s NEPA scoping process may not be adequately addressed in the license applicants preliminary draft EA or EIS
  • The process generally requires all major stakeholders to agree to a comprehensive settlement agreement and is highly dependent on consensus-building between stakeholders prior to submitting the NOI and PAD.

References