Hydropower Project Licenses

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) grants licenses for hydropower projects for a period anywhere from 30 to 50 years. Licenses define how projects may operate for power generation and include provisions that benefit the public and the environment.

For example, a license might require operations to:

  • Control flooding
  • Enhance recreational opportunities
  • Protect or enhance the environment affected by project operations

Stakeholders and Public Involvement

Active public involvement in the relicensing process is important to ensure that future licenses balance the need for power production as well as the needs of recreation, safety and the environment.

Equally important are the discussions, or consultation, with state and federal agencies managing natural and cultural resources, Native American tribes, environmental groups and the public; known collectively as stakeholders. Partnering with stakeholders allows Idaho Power to effectively address project-related impacts on the environment and the need for reliable, fair-priced energy services.

Throughout the course of the relicensing process, stakeholders are provided various opportunities to participate through noticed public meetings and solicitations for comment on official documents. Stakeholder input helps define the issues that will be examined in the relicensing process.

Once the issues are defined, Idaho Power studies the environmental and economic impact of the project and summarizes the results in a license application. When completed, Idaho Power provides copies of it and the full study reports, including recommendations for offsetting the project’s impacts on the affected environment, to FERC, resource agencies and interested stakeholders. The entire relicensing process can take anywhere from five to 10 years, depending on the complexity of issues.

Project Benefits

After receiving the application, FERC evaluates the application and develops license orders. When FERC develops license orders, it is required to consider both the power and non-power benefits of the project equally.

Generation of electricity and flood control are two power benefits. Non-power benefits include benefits to the following:

  • Fish
  • Wildlife
  • Botanical
  • Aesthetics
  • Water quality
  • Land use
  • Recreation
  • Cultural resources

A successful application proposes ways to balance power and non-power benefits. The application should keep the project cost-effective while addressing project-related impacts on the environment and providing recreation opportunities.

Projects in Relicensing

Hells Canyon Complex Project

The Hells Canyon Complex includes the Brownlee, Oxbow and Hells Canyon projects, reservoirs and power plants. All of these facilities operate under the same license (No. 1971) granted by FERC.

The existing license expired in July 2005. In preparation of the expiration, Idaho Power filed the final license application for the Hells Canyon Complex on July 21, 2003.

In May 2019, the company received Section 401 Water Quality Certification from the states of Oregon and Idaho, a step that was required before a new license can be issued by FERC. Idaho Power anticipates a new long-term license could be issued in 2022. (Read our news release about the Water Quality Certification.)

Idaho Power will operate on an annual license under the terms and conditions of the prior license until a new license is issued by FERC.

American Falls Project

On Feb. 27, 2020, Idaho Power filed a Notification of Intent (NOI) to file an application for a new license, Pre-Application Document (PAD), and request to use the Traditional Licensing Process (TLP) to relicense the American Falls Hydroelectric Project (FERC Project No. 2736). The NOI, PAD and request to use the TLP can be viewed and downloaded here.

On May 13, Idaho Power published its Notice of Joint Agency and Public Meeting, which was held May 29. Idaho Power’s presentation can be viewed and downloaded here.

The original American Falls power plant was built in 1902, acquired by Idaho Power in 1916 and rebuilt by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) in 1927.

Idaho Power added the current power plant in 1976 when Reclamation rebuilt the dam. It has three generators with a total nameplate generating capacity of 92,400 kilowatts. Reclamation owns the dam, which is operated primarily for irrigation. Ancillary benefits include power production and recreation opportunities, among others. It is located on the Snake River in the city of American Falls, Idaho, at river mile 714.7 and is the furthest upstream of Idaho Power’s hydroelectric facilities.

The existing federal license will expire on February 28, 2025. For questions about the relicensing process, contact Dave Zayas, FERC Hydro Coordinator and Compliance Consultant, at or 208-388-2915.

For assistance with a PDF on this page or to request a PDF in an alternate format, please contact Customer Service at 208-388-2323 or 1-800-488-6151