RAPID/Best Practices/Tips for Small Hydropower Developers

From Open Energy Information
RAPIDRegulatory and Permitting Information Desktop Toolkit
My Projects

Tips for Small Hydropower Developers

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) may issue an exemption from licensing for small hydropower facilities resulting in only minor effects to the environment. FERC issues two types of FERC license exemptions (described below), including a 10 MW exemption and a conduit exemption. A FERC license exemption does not exempt a developer from FERC requirements. However, the process for obtaining an exemption is less complicated than the process for obtaining a FERC license.

10-MW Exemption

To qualify for a 10-MW exemption, the project must meet the following provisions:

  1. The project must have a generating capacity of 10 MW or less;
  2. The developer must propose to install or add capacity to an existing project located on a non-federal, pre-2005 dam or at a natural water feature; and
  3. The developer must have all necessary real property interests, or an option to obtain such interests, in non-federal lands.

Note: A 10-MW exempt project may use federal lands but may not be located at a federal dam.

Conduit Exemption

To qualify as an exempt conduit hydropower facility, the project must meet the following provisions:

  1. The project must have a generating capacity of 40 MW or less;
  2. The project must use the potential of a man-made conduit operated primarily for non-hydropower purpose (i.e., used for agricultural, municipal or industrial consumption);
  3. The developer must own the proposed powerhouse and lands upon which the powerhouse will be located; and
  4. The project may not use federal lands.


The FERC website provides users with a number of Web-based tools designed to help developers understand and complete the FERC exemption process.

FERC Exemptions from Licensing

FERC’s Exemptions from Licensing web page outlines the two types of licensing exemptions issued by FERC and provides links to relevant sections of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Tips to Develop a Complete Application

FERC’s FERC - Tips to Develop a Complete Application web page provides a list of steps the developer should take and information that the developer should provide in its application for a FERC exemption in order to reduce or eliminate application deficiencies, avoid additional information requests and expedite the FERC exemption process.

How to Manage Hydropower Exhibits

A hydropower developer is required to submit exhibit drawings when applying to FERC for a FERC exemption. FERC’s How to Manage Hydropower Exhibits web page identifies FERC’s required standards and specifications for hydropower project exhibits and provides examples of acceptable exhibit drawings.

For additional information regarding hydropower project exhibit drawings, see FERC’s Managing Hydropower Project Exhibits Guidance Document.

FERC’s Dam Safety Program

Understanding that small/low impact hydropower projects using low hazard potential dams have limited dam safety requirements, FERC developed a paper titled The Role of the FERC’s Dam Safety Program with Small/Low Impact Hydropower Development to explain how FERC’s dam safety program is implemented with respect to small/low impact hydropower projects.

Hydropower Filing Guide

Generally, a developer must submit all filings required by FERC for a hydropower project (including filings for a qualifying conduit hydropower facility) electronically. FERC’s Hydropower Filing Guide provides users with guidance on using FERC’s efiling system to submit hydropower documents and to complete the filing process.


FERC’s eFiling web page links to FERC’s eRegister web page where the developer can create a FERC online account and to FERC’s Online Home Page where the developer can access online applications and submit hydropower documents electronically.


Some states have developed guidance materials designed to assist users to develop small/low-impact hydropower projects, to navigate the Federal permitting process and to avoid unnecessary delays and costs.


State Small-Low Impact Hydropower Assistance Program

Small-low impact hydropower projects may be eligible for streamlined federal permitting assistance from the Colorado Energy Office. The Colorado Small-low Impact Hydropower Assistance Program coordinates resource agency reviews and provides a single point of contact for developers in order to help developers complete permitting requirements more quickly and efficiently. To qualify for assistance, the proposed hydropower project must utilize existing infrastructure; present no significant changes to current operation of infrastructure; create no new stream diversions; and present only minimal or easily mitigated effects on water quality, fish passage, threatened or endangered species, and cultural or recreational resources.

Small-Low Impact Assistance Program:

Colorado Small Hydropower Handbook

The Colorado Energy Office’s Small Hydropower Handbook provides a resource for developers, utilities, agricultural businesses and other stakeholders that are interested in the development of small hydropower projects in Colorado. For the purposes of this handbook, “small hydropower” is defined as development on existing infrastructure or hydropower with generating capacity of 2 MW or less. This handbook examines the various steps involved in developing a small hydropower project, including site assessment; feasibility assessment; permitting, financing and interconnection; final design and construction; and commissioning and communication.


State Small-Low Impact Hydropower Assistance Program

In Vermont, new hydroelectric projects meeting certain criteria for limited resource impacts may qualify for the Vermont Small Hydropower Assistance Program, which is designed to assist developers with state and federal permitting processes and to provide an expedited review process in accordance with the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013. The RAPID Toolkit links users to useful resources, forms and instructions provided by Vermont’s Hydropower Assistance Program.

Small Hydropower Assistance Program:

Vermont Hydropower Facility Licensing Factsheet

The Vermont Agency for Natural Resources’ Hydropower Facility Licensing Factsheet identifies the state and federal agencies likely to be involved in permitting a small hydropower facility, outlines the permitting process and answers frequently asked questions.