FERC delays 50-year license
By Bayne Hughes
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission delayed action on Alabama Power Co.’s application for a long-term license for the Warrior River Hydroelectric Project, giving the power company a year-to-year permit.
Alabama Power seeks a 50-year license. The power company uses Smith Lake to regulate the Warrior River’s levels and cool the water for use at its downriver steam plant. FERC issued an annual license Sept. 6.
The Smith Lake Improvement and Stakeholders Association, a group formed to fight Alabama Power water levels and regulation, claims the delay on the long-term license as a minor victory, but FERC and Alabama Power representatives disagreed.
Celeste Miller, a spokeswoman for FERC, said the delay and the annual license are “very routine. We do this so the project can continue to operate. It’s done often.”
Alabama Power spokesman Michael Sznajderman said FERC made the same move on seven other company projects. The commission most recently delayed the long-term licensing on the Coosa River.
He said FERC told Alabama Power, which filed the application two years ago, that it would probably have to issue an annual license because of the “extremely voluminous” amount of information that it has to review on the Warrior project. He said it usually takes two to four years for the review.
“This was a totally routine procedure that we anticipated and FERC anticipated,” Sznajderman said.
“If SLISA is calling this a victory, they really don’t understand the FERC licensing process. This is standard —
absolutely routine. They’re putting out erroneous information.”
Lake levels have been a major controversy among many of the homeowners and developers of the Smith Lake region, particularly during the past two summers. Alabama Power blamed low lake levels on drought and extreme heat.
SLISA President Jared Key said Alabama Power is trying to spin the situation in its favor, but he said the fact is FERC delayed approval of the long-term license.
“I expected them to say that,” Key said. “We’re not saying that FERC is siding with us or making a decision in our favor. We know that they sent an investigator to Smith Lake because of the rash of complaints about the way Alabama Power is handling things.”
Key, who says his group now has 3,000 members, said SLISA looks at the delay as an opportunity to submit more information to FERC on the environmental and economic impact of Alabama Power’s Smith Lake management.
Miller said one reason for the delay is that FERC is waiting on completion of an environmental impact study that’s due in October. A 60-day public comment period will follow.
Key said his association’s goal is to get Alabama Power to consider the stakeholders’ Smith Lake problems. He sent a letter Sept. 6 to Charles McCrary, president and chief executive officer of Alabama Power, asking for a meeting to discuss these problems, but said a company lawyer told him that McCrary would not meet with the association.
Key said the association wants Alabama Power to:
? Set stable water levels on Smith Lake.
? Form a stakeholders committee to help write new rules and regulations for the lake.
? Form an appeals board to hear accusations of rules violations and to make sure the regulations are administered fairly.
In the letter, Key states that he is making a “proactive” attempt to find a solution to Smith Lake’s problems. He also writes that he would resign as SLISA president if McCrary could prove that a cooling tower at the Gorgas Steam Plant wouldn’t solve Smith Lake’s problems.
“We’re just trying to get them to sit down at the table and tell them these are our problems,” Key said. “Our main goal is to improve all aspects of Smith Lake by first and foremost maintaining reasonable water levels.”
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