ALLEGANY TERRITORY, Salamanca - The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission granted the Seneca Nation a preliminary permit for the Seneca Hydroelectric Project at the Kinzua Dam near Warren, PA.
This is a positive development in the relicensing of the Seneca Pumped Storage Project by November 2015 and will increase the capacity of hydroelectric generation capability at the Kinzua Dam. The Seneca Hydroelectric Project would be sited on the upstream side of the dam in the Allegany Reservoir.
The preliminary permit gives the Nation the right to study the feasibility of the additional hydropower and priority in filing the full permit. Priority simply means that if two parties have equal applications, the party who filed first gets the license.
"This is a positive first step in what will be a lengthy process that started last November in the Seneca Nation's determined effort to win back the Kinzua Dam, the Allegany watershed and our flooded ancestral lands, and use them for the benefit of our bi-state region," said Seneca Nation President Robert Odawi Porter.
The Nation applied to FERC to operate the Seneca Pumped Storage Project at the Kinzua Dam site in late November 2010. The pumped storage hydropower project generates 450 megawatts of electricity, which corporate interests FirstEnergy of Toledo, OH sold and profited from for 40 years without compensating the Nation. The hydropower project relies on and every day uses Seneca Nation land and water.
"We would argue that FirstEnergy could never file an application equal to the Nation's," President Porter said, "because FirstEnergy is unable to obtain the Seneca Nation's water or property rights for storing water on the Nation's land and using water for the additional hydropower generation. This is our advantage in the Seneca Pumped Storage Project licensing, as well as this preliminary permit."
The preliminary permit also requires the Nation to work with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to obtain documents relevant to adding new generation infrastructure to its dam; Corps' authority is needed to site the additional generation onto its Kinzua Dam, in addition to the FERC license to operate the new facility.
The Nation seeks to utilize the dam at its highest energy potential without further effect on the environment. It would be the best licensee because of the Nation's commitment to healing from the taking of its lands and the Nation's regional effort to empower itself and its neighbors to spread economic opportunities over two states and scores of communities that can benefit from it.
The permit's term is for 36 months beginning Aug. 1, 2011. The Nation is required to provide a progress report to FERC every six months.
Authorized by Congress with the Flood Control Acts of 1936 and 1938, the Army Corps of Engineers built the Kinzua Dam near Warren between 1960 and 1965. The purpose of the $108 million dam was flood control and pollution flushing for Pennsylvania, but in 1970 the federal government also gave away the right to generate hydropower to private, for-profit utility companies now estimated at $13 million in profits annually.
The dam controls a watershed area twice the size of the state of Rhode Island, 2,180 square miles. The reservoir that resulted flooded over 10,000 acres of Seneca land, displacing more than 800 Senecas and flooding graves.
The privately developed hydropower project was already permitted by the federal government before the Seneca Nation was informed of plans for its license and operation. The Nation has never been invited to share in the significant financial benefits, though it lives with all the environmental and socio-economic burdens. The Nation is committed to operate and improve it for the region.
FirstEnergy Corp. currently holds the 50-year license to operate the pumped storage project. That license expires in November 2015 and it is a competing applicant with the Nation to operate the project.
Wendy Huff, executive director of the Nation's Kinzua Dam Relicensing Commission, said the preliminary permit is an encouraging sign.
"The Nation has made this a top priority and focus, and it's beneficial to 'win' something, no matter how preliminary," she said. "Regaining our rights to our land and water is something we'll work tirelessly for in the next five years.
The Seneca Nation Council established the KDRC to facilitate all aspects of the application process. Working within the governmental structure of the Seneca Nation, the Commission will be the point of contact for all relicensing queries from the U.S. Government and all other interested parties.
For more information on the Seneca Pumped Storage Project, visit www.senecaproject.com.