Hydropower licensing and evolving climate: climate knowledge to support risk assessment for long-term infrastructure decisions

Friday, 19 December 2014
Andrea J Ray1, Susan Walker2, Sarah Fleisher Trainor3 and Jessica E Cherry3, (1)NOAA/Earth System Research Lab, Boulder, CO, United States, (2)NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service, Alaska Region, Juneau, AK, United States, (3)University of Alaska Fairbanks, Fairbanks, AK, United States
This presentation focuses on linking climate knowledge to the complicated decision process for hydropower dam licensing, and the affected parties involved in that process. The U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission issues of licenses for nonfederal hydroelectric operations, typically 30-50 year licenses, and longer infrastructure lifespan, a similar time frame as the anticipated risks of changing climate and hydrology. Resources managed by other federal and state agencies such as the NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service may be affected by new or re-licensed projects. The federal Integrated Licensing Process gives the opportunity for affected parties to recommend issues for consultative investigation and possible mitigation, such as impacts to downstream fisheries. New or re-licensed projects have the potential to “pre-adapt” by considering and incorporating risks of climate change into their planned operations as license terms and conditions. Hundreds of hydropower facilities will be up for relicensing in the coming years (over 100 in the western Sierra Nevada alone, and large-scale water projects such as the proposed Lake Powell Pipeline), as well as proposed new dams such as the Susitna project in Alaska. Therefore, there is a need for comprehensive guidance on delivering climate analysis to support understanding of risks of hydropower projects to other affected resources, and decisions on licensing. While each project will have a specific context, many of the questions will be similar.

We also will discuss best practices for the use of climate science in water project planning and management, and how creating the best and most appropriate science is also still a developing art. We will discuss the potential reliability of that science for consideration in long term planning, licensing, and mitigation planning for those projects. For science to be “actionable,” that science must be understood and accepted by the potential users. This process is a negotiation, with climate scientists needing to understand the concerns of users and respond, and users developing a better understanding of the state of climate science in order to make an informed choice. We will also discuss what is needed to streamline providing that analysis for the many re-licensing decisions expected in the upcoming years.