The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has chastised a fellow agency for delays in biological reviews needed to renew licenses of hydroelectric projects in the Carolinas and Georgia.
Duke Energy has long chafed at delays by the National Marine Fisheries Service in assessing the impacts of its Catawba River project on the endangered shortnose sturgeon. Duke had hoped to get a new license in 2008.
In a letter Monday to the fisheries service, Jeff Wright, the director of FERC's Office of Energy Projects said a 135-day consultation period had passed for a half-dozen projects. Among them: Duke on the Catawba, Progress Energy on the Yadkin River, the S.C. Public Service Authority's Santee-Cooper project and S.C. Electric and Gas' Saluda project.
"We recognize the importance of protecting endangered species and the benefit of having biological opinions from NMFS to inform our licensing decisions," Wright wrote the fisheries service. "However, neither the public interest nor the listed species under consultation are served by the delays in our ability to act on license applications that will advance the protection of listed species."
The issue is whether hydro dams impede the migrations of sturgeon, an ancient species that swims up coastal rivers to spawn. In Duke's case, the utility says its first dam, built in 1904, came well after the last sturgeon was seen downstream in the Wateree River.
But last year the fish showed they're still capable of swimming far inland. Two sturgeon were tracked last spring to just below Duke's Wateree Dam, the first that blocks the Catawba.
Duke has offered to help wandering sturgeon by increasing the amount of water it releases downstream during each spring's spawning season, expanding their range.