ASDSO Dam Safety Toolbox

Federal Energy Regulatory Commission

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The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is an independent regulatory federal agency under the Department of Energy with the responsibility to regulate national energy resources across the nation. It regulates natural gas and oil pipelines and the transmission of electrical power. It also regulates the production of non-federal hydroelectric power. FERC regulates the safety of about 1,600 hydroelectric projects (with a total of over 2,500 dams). Dam safety is regulated within FERC by the Division of Dam Safety and Inspections. It has five regions:

FERC Regions and Regional Office Locations (Image Source: FERC)

Purpose of FERC

FERC regulates the hydropower dams owned by companies, private individuals, municipalities, and states. FERC does not regulate the hydropower dams owned by federal agencies such as the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Bureau of Reclamation (USBR), and Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). However, FERC does have regulatory authority over non-federal hydropower additions/modifications to federal dams (e.g., adding hydropower to a USACE dam).

Hydropower Dam and Plant (Image Source: Google Creative Commons) Hydropower Diagram (Image Source: USBR)

The primary authority for regulating new projects or the operation of existing hydropower projects is the FERC license. The licenses are renewable with terms between 30 and 50 years. There are three hazard potential classifications that FERC uses: High, Significant, and Low. FERC requires Independent Consultants (ICs) to review the safety of High and Significant hazard potential projects. Periodic Inspections (PIs) and Comprehensive Assessments (CAs) alternate every 5 years. A requirement to perform Potential Failure Mode Analysis (PFMA) was added in the early 2000’s. In 2022, FERC also added a requirement that licensees perform Level 2 Semi-Quantitative Risk Analyses (L2RA) during the CA using an Independent Consultant team.

FERC Requires licensees to have a Chief Dam Safety Officer or Chief Dam Safety Coordinator. Licensees with high hazard dams are also required to have documented Owner Dam Safety Programs (ODSPs).

FERC Resources

FERC has an extensive web presence. Here are online resources regarding the dam safety aspects of hydropower:

FERC Hydropower Home Page

CFR Title 18, Part 12 Regulations

Division of Dam Safety and Inspections (D2SI) - The FERC division that is responsible for dam safety

DSI Regional Engineers contact information

FERC Engineering Guidelines for the Evaluation of Hydropower Projects

Revision ID: 7557
Revision Date: 08/01/2023