West Valley power project still viable
However, Josten insists this does not mean the end of his plan to build two power plants, each with a small hydroelectric turbine generator, producing a combined output of about 2,600 kilowatts.
“This is not a comment on the viability of the project,” said Josten, explaining the finer points of the application process and his planned appeal of FERC’s decision. “It is a comment on its eligibility for an exemption.
“It appears to me to be a technicality,” said the entrepreneurial engineer. “They haven’t dismissed the project; they dismissed its eligibility for an exemption. That’s probably a fine point that most people have missed.”
The issue at hand, according to Josten, is whether his project would use the natural gradient of a river or stream. He expects his appeal to sort out that question. “This is typical. This is not the only ‘down’ that I’ve had,” he said. “There’ve been a lot of things thrown in my way. That’s the way the process works. As the developer, I’m responsible to meet all those requirements, and I’ve done that. This is just another one.”
Josten reaffirmed his commitment to the project, saying he has already begun the process to appeal the decision.
“What I applied for was not a license, which is the more common way that these projects are developed. I applied for an exemption. It still goes through all the same evaluation, but the main difference is that in the end FERC doesn’t get a royalty on exempted projects whereas they do on licensed projects.”
In order to help others understand the recent ruling by FERC, Josten explained how it came about.
“They are looking at this as a precedent. If they allow an exemption on this project, then others who apply for similar projects will also expect an exemption. And so, they are very careful about that. Why it didn’t get reviewed when it was first submitted, I don’t know. But, that’s sometimes the way it is dealing with regulating agencies.”
Thus, the recent dismissal, although not normal, is part of FERC’s review process before granting such a request.
“I think they feel like the project’s ready to finalize. In fact, I’m sure that’s where the review of the exemption status came in,” Josten said. “They were, probably, making sure they had all their ‘t’s crossed and ‘i’s dotted (when) they came across this concern about the eligibility for exemption.”
Josten admits this dismissal is “a little unusual,” since the whole application process, including the lengthy information collection and the scoping processes, has proceeded under the assumption that the application was valid.
That the agency should raise this objection at this late stage of the process dismays Josten.
“Why that wasn’t evaluated before, I don’t know. And, I’m a little disappointed. It’s really just a technical issue as to whether it can be exempted or not.
“This dismissal came at the 11th hour,” said Josten, continuing with his assessment. “We were essentially in the position where I had provided all the information that the federal agencies had requested — all of this under the assumption that the application was valid. I felt like we were waiting, now, for FERC’s final summary and, possibly, their decision. That was all that was left was for them to decide to issue the exemption and what the conditions would be on it.”
The outspoken critics of the proposed project are primarily those people who live along the river or own land in the canyon. Their objections focus on the reduced river flows the project would cause.
“It will have less flow than it would if the project weren’t developed,” said Josten, acknowledging opponents’ concerns. “Everybody’s envisioning a dry river, but, of course, it’s not going to be like that. … My view is that the scenarios people paint for themselves are extreme and not a fair reflection of what will really happen. But, I can understand their point of view.”
Josten emphasized the vital role of such projects, given the growing need for power generation in this state.
“To me, it’s a good resource for clean energy. As time goes on it becomes clearer and clearer that we need these forms of energy.”
He also defends his project as environmentally sound.
“It was studied based on the objective of providing habitat for the red band rainbow trout … the flow requirement to sustain the population of red band rainbow trout. It will be a healthy fishery. It will have a spring flood, just like it always does.”
As for the overall environmental impact, Josten’s position is firm: “I believe it will be minimal. The primary difference that people will notice will be lower flows. But, those flows will be sufficient to sustain the habitat, to sustain the fishery.”
Suggesting that the appeal process will only last “a month of two,” Josten seems to be optimistic, though resigned to its ups and downs. “They usually try to act on them pretty fast. But, it is a federal agency.
“The process lets everybody have their point of view. It’s part of the process. I’m letting FERC have their point of view, too. But, I still feel like the project is a good one, and I hope to get it done,” he said, summarizing.
“That’s the information as I know it. I’ve learned that you have to roll with the game. This is a huge, federal agency in Washington, D.C. that’s guiding this thing.
“If I win the appeal, then I expect we’ll go right back to where we were — and that is waiting for FERC’s decision.”
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