November 22, 2011
DEFINITION OF HYDROPOWER AS RENEWABLE ENERGY
By: Kevin E. McCarthy, Principal Analyst
You asked (1) what is the definition of class I renewable resources for purposes of the renewable portfolio standard (RPS), (2) to what extent hydropower is included in this definition, and (3) what role do the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA), formerly the Department of Public Utility Control (DPUC), and the Low Impact Hydropower Institute play in determining whether a particular project is eligible for this designation.
The law requires electric companies and competitive electric suppliers to get part of their power from class I renewable resources under the RPS. These resources include certain hydropower as well as other “green” resources such as solar and wind energy and the power produced by fuel cells.
To count as a class I resource, hydropower must be produced at a facility that (1) operates on the run of the river basis, as opposed to storing water behind a dam and releasing the water to generate power; (2) does not cause an appreciable change in the river flow; (3) has a generating capacity of not more than five megawatts; and (4) began operation after July 1, 2003. Facilities that meet the first three criteria that went into operation before July 1, 2003 are considered class II resources.
To be designated as a class I or class II resource, the owner of the resource must be approved by PURA to determine whether it meets the statutory criteria, as further defined in a 2004 DPUC declaratory ruling.
The Low Impact Hydropower Institute is a non-profit organization that seeks to reduce the impacts of hydropower generation by certifying projects that have avoided or reduced their environmental impacts pursuant to the institute's criteria. Connecticut law does not require this certification in order for a facility to be considered a class I or II resource, and in practice it appears that PURA does not consider whether a facility is certified in making its decisions.
Typically, the companies and suppliers meet the RPS by buying by purchasing renewable energy certificates (RECs) issued by the New England Power Pool Generation Information System. Under CGS § 16-245a, these RECs must be for (1) energy produced by a generating unit using Class I or Class II renewable energy sources that is located in New England or (2) energy from such sources located outside of New England that is imported into New England. Resources in the northern tip of Maine do not count, because this area is part of the New Brunswick rather than New England grid.
To be designated as a class I or class II resource, the facility owner must apply to PURA to determine whether the facility meets the statutory criteria as defined above. If it does, PURA gives the facility an RPS registration number. The most recent proceeding was in June 2010, when DPUC approved the application of the FirstLight Hydro Generation Company for a class I designation for its Taftville (Connecticut) facility (docket 09-12-15).
DEFINITION OF CLASS I AND HYDROPOWER AS RENEWABLE ENERGY
CGS § 16-245a requires electric companies and competitive electric suppliers to get part of their power from class I resources under the RPS. Under CGS § 16-244c, electric companies must contract with their wholesale suppliers to comply with the RPS. Currently, the electric companies and suppliers must get 8% of their power from class I resources and this proportion will increase in stages to 20% as of 2020.
CGS § 16-1 defines class I resources as a variety of “green” energy sources. They are:
1. energy derived from solar or wind power;
2. energy derived from a fuel cell or methane gas from landfills;
3. ocean thermal, wave, or tidal power;
4. energy from low emission advanced renewable energy conversion technologies;
5. energy from a run-of-the-river hydropower facility that has a generating capacity of up to five megawatts, does not cause an appreciable change in the river flow, and began operation after July 1, 2003; and
6. energy from certain sustainable biomass (e.g., wood) facilities.
In addition, the power generated from any of these resources, including that produced by distributed (on-site) generation, counts as a class I resource.
Under the RPS, the companies and suppliers must get an additional 3% of their power from either class I or class II resources. Class II resources include, among other things, power from a run-of-the-river hydropower facility that has a generating capacity of up to five megawatts, does not cause an appreciable change in the river flow, and began operation prior to July 1, 2003.
In 2004, DPUC issued a declaratory ruling in docket 04-02-07 providing further details. The ruling specified that a “facility” refers to an entire hydroelectric plant at a single site rather than each turbine unit at a hydroelectric plant. The generating capacity limit of a facility is its nameplate capacity, not its actual or average generation output. To qualify as “run-of-the-river,” a facility must show a current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license or exemption that requires it to operate in run-of-river mode (e.g., on a seasonal basis). Alternatively, it can qualify as Class I or Class II to the extent that its license or exemption requires run-of-river operation. Hydroelectric facilities that are not regulated by FERC must show a FERC order or a court decision stating that FERC has no jurisdiction or has declined to exercise jurisdiction over the facility. In such cases, the facility must show that its operation allows the river inflow to equal outflow and therefore does not cause an appreciable change in the river flow. The ruling specifies that the date a facility “began operations” is (1) the date an existing generation facility began commercial operation, as shown in FERC documentation; (2) the date an abandoned or destroyed facility comes back into operation, as shown in its FERC documentation or as determined by DPUC; (3) the date when a facility changes from store and release to run-of-river operations, as shown in FERC documentation; or (4) the date that incremental generation begins operation at an existing facility as shown in its FERC. Under the last provision, if an eligible facility went into operation before 2003 but increases its generation capacity later, the added capacity would be considered a class I resource.