An Examination of the Hydropower Licensing and Federal Authorization Process

Aaron Levine, Brenda Pracheil, Taylor Curtis, Ligia Smith, Jesse Cruce, Matt Aldrovandi, Christa Breslford, Heather Buchanan, Emily Fekete, Esther Parish, Rocio Uria-Martinez, Megan Johnson, Debjani Singh

Research output: NRELTechnical Report


Site-permitting and regulation are necessary to ensure hydropower projects (both original and relicensed) comply with statutory requirements and address multiple stakeholder priorities that consider a range of factors, including water quality, species protection, cultural resource impacts, and recreation. However, the time involved in acquiring a license for an individual hydropower project can be highly variable by project, leading to increased project costs, financial risks, and uncertainties. In part, this variability is the result of a regulatory structure that has evolved over time to include multiple approvals and compliance requirements administered by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), federal land management agencies, federal and state resource agencies, and Indian Tribes. Ultimately, the time, benefits, costs, and risks to developers associated with hydropower regulatory processes and/or the preparation (e.g., studies) required for regulatory agency review are not well documented or synthesized in the public domain, which may increase uncertainty and variability within the process. This report addresses these needs by presenting results of a comprehensive examination of hydropower licensing including quantitative and qualitative analyses of timelines, causal factors, and their combined effect on risk and costs to developers.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages303
StatePublished - 2021

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/TP-6A20-79242


  • hydropower
  • licensing
  • permitting


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