LIHI certification of low-impact facilities is limited to certain types of hydropower facilities located in the United States. Program eligibility is provided for in Section 2 of the LIHI Handbook (click HERE to access). The current eligibility requirements for LIHI certification are as follows:
Facilities Eligible for LIHI Certification
In general, conventional hydropower facilities located within the United States are eligible to apply for LIHI certification, as long as they do not involve construction of new dams or diversions after August 1998. Facilities that do not involve a dam or diversion are not subject to the August 1998 construction date limitation.
Existing and New Facilities
“Existing” hydropower facilities, meaning those that have powerhouses located at existing dams or diversions and that were generating electricity as of August 1998, are eligible to apply for LIHI certification. “New” hydropower facilities, meaning those that added a new powerhouse at a previously non-powered dam or one that increased power generation capacity after August 1998, are also eligible for LIHI certification, as long as the dam or diversion structure associated with the facility was in existence in August 1998. New hydropower plants that are eligible at existing dams include those that have added generating equipment, efficiency upgrades to existing equipment, or other means of generation, provided the added or increased capacity:
- was created by modifications or additions to the existing facility (that is, modifications or additions to the existing dam, and/or if applicable, existing powerhouse) and did not require or include any new dam or other diversion structure;
- did not include or require a change in water flow through the facility that worsened conditions for fish, wildlife, or water quality (for example, operations did not change from run-of-river* to peaking); and
- did not occur at an existing dam that had been recommended for removal or decommissioning by a resource agency. Exceptions to this rule will be considered but only when it is shown that the changes in the facility resulted in improvements to fish, wildlife, or water quality protection, especially those issues raised in removal recommendations.
Hydropower facilities at dams or diversions that have been reconstructed at the site of previously existing dams may be considered for certification on a case-by-case basis.
“New” hydropower facilities that are not generating electricity at the time of their certification application (i.e., pre-operational facilities) may be eligible for consideration, provided that the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license or exemption, or similar authorization addressing environmental impacts, has been issued and that there are no pending appeals or litigation associated with that authorization. In such cases, the applicant must acknowledge that LIHI may suspend or revoke the certification should the impacts of the facility, once operational, cause non-compliance with the certification criteria. For such pre-operational certification, the certification term will begin when the new power plant begins generation. Applicants will be charged a fee premium for pre-operational certification (see Appendix C, LIHI Fee Schedule).
Facilities Not Eligible for LIHI Certification
The following types of hydropower facilities are not currently eligible for LIHI certification:
- Facilities associated with dams that have been recommended for removal by a resource agency. If a natural resource agency has concluded that a dam should be removed and has documented their recommendation in an official, publicly available report or proceeding, the hydroelectric facilities associated with that dam are not eligible for LIHI certification and owners of those facilities should not apply (see Section 2.1.1 for possible exceptions);
- Hydropower facilities that are located at a dam or diversion that was constructed after August 1998 or that would require construction of a new dam or diversion that does not currently exist.
- Pumped-storage hydropower facilities;
- Hydropower facilities located outside of the United States; and
- Facilities located in marine environments or using hydrokinetic hydropower technologies.
*A facility is operated in a run-of-river mode if the outflow of the facility is within reasonable measurement accuracy (+/- 10 percent) of the inflow to the facility, measured on an hourly basis.
May 28, 2020: Decision on LIHI Proposal to Expand Eligibility for New Construction
In its April 2020 meeting, the LIHI governing board accepted the Technical Committee’s recommendation to not make any changes to the current LIHI eligibility date for dam or diversion construction.
Initiated by a board vote in December 2018 and driven by several inquiries by relevant parties, LIHI staff solicited public comment on a proposal to advance the eligibility date for dams or diversions in March of 2019. LIHI’s current eligibility rules require a dam or diversion to have been constructed by August of 1998. The proposal would have allowed new dams or diversions to apply provided the construction occurred at least five years prior to application. In addition, such new construction would have needed to demonstrate a net benefit to the environment. The period to comment on the proposal closed on June 14, 2019. Ten comments were received (see below).
Overall, the comments did not provide sufficient support for the proposed change, nor a clear consensus on an alternative approach to advance the eligibility date. The comments reflected a continued concern that LIHI Certification may be an incentive, or at least a contributing factor, to the building of new dams or diversions. It was clear that if the construction date were moved, a new criterion regarding the impacts of construction itself may be warranted.
Only a small number of newer dams and diversions in the US could become eligible under the proposal, meaning that few facilities would be expected to apply if the change had been adopted. Several new stream reach hydropower technologies are under development, but most remain at the conceptual stage and are not deployed in ways that would allow LIHI to critically evaluate their impacts.
LIHI will continue to monitor the development of these new technologies and the construction of new dams and diversions in general. LIHI will continue to assess whether any changes in eligibility may be warranted and will initiate another public comment process if deemed appropriate.
The LIHI staff and governing board appreciate the time and effort of those who participated in this review.
October 31, 2019: The LIHI Governing Board continues to review comments and potential LIHI program eligibility changes. Further information will be shared when it becomes available.
June 14, 2019: The comment period regarding the Proposal to Expand Eligibility for New Construction has ended. The comments that were submitted are currently under review by LIHI Staff and Governing Board. Comments may be viewed via the links below and the original communication regarding the proposal is available for review in the following section.
Proposal to Expand Eligibility for New Construction
March 25, 2019
Introduction: At the December 2018 meeting, LIHI’s governing board approved a proposal to consider changing the eligibility for newer dams and diversions. The proposal is based on the understanding that unless we reconsider the vintage date criteria for eligibility, LIHI Certified® hydro will become a rapidly decreasing resource in both the voluntary market and in some state compliance (RPS) markets.
LIHI’s current facility age restrictions limit eligibility to (1) incremental efficiency improvements made at existing facilities constructed prior to September 1998 and (2) new facilities built on existing non-powered dams. This limitation was adopted to avoid LIHI’s Certification program becoming an incentive or support for the construction of new dams.
The Green-e and EPA GPP programs, which require LIHI Certification for hydro to qualify in their programs, allow new hydro generation built on existing impoundments on a rolling 15-year date (e.g., projects 15 years old or newer). Several state RPS programs also limit eligibility to newer projects only.
Advancements are being made in the design of new dams and diversions, designs that push the traditional understanding of a hydro dam and its impacts. Through support of the US Department of Energy and entrepreneurs, technology is being developed that could restore ailing river systems or otherwise improve river environments while providing additional hydropower supply.
LIHI’s research on new hydro construction found that very few new dams or diversions have been constructed since 1998, about a dozen in total, suggesting that LIHI is not driving interest in new construction. Regardless of the limited number of facilities that have been built since 1998, and because of advancements being made in hydropower technologies, LIHI believes it is important to consider updating eligibility in order to remain relevant to voluntary programs and some state programs. States that include a cutoff date for dams in their RPS programs would not be affected.
The proposal would move the LIHI eligibility cutoff date forward while allowing for a reasonable time period to identify post-construction and operational project impacts, while keeping with LIHI’s commitment to safeguard riverine systems. Since LIHI’s current criteria do not directly address new construction activities, it is important that a project have a track record of operations before being considered for Certification.
Proposal: New dams and diversions that provide a net benefit to resource values will be eligible if the dam or diversion has been constructed and in service for 5 years or more (on a rolling basis).
Proposed Handbook Edits:
(Italicized text is new)
2. ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS
2.1.1 Existing and New Facilities
“Existing” hydropower facilities, meaning those that have powerhouses located at existing dams or diversions and that were generating electricity as of
August 1998 five (5) years prior to the date of the initial application, are eligible to apply for LIHI Certification. “New” hydropower facilities, meaning those that added a new powerhouse at a previously non-powered dam or one that increased power generation capacity after August 1998, are also eligible for LIHI Certification, if the dam or diversion structure associated with the facility was in existence in August 1998 at least five (5) years before the application date. For dams and diversions built after August 1998, the dam or diversion must provide a net benefit to resource values.
New hydropower facilities that are eligible at existing dams include those that have added generating equipment, made efficiency upgrades to existing equipment, or otherwise increased generation, provided that the added or increased generating capacity meets the following requirements:
Hydropower facilities at dams or diversions that have been reconstructed at the site of a previously existing dam may be considered for Certification on a case-by-case basis.
2.2 Facilities Not Eligible for LIHI Certification
The following types of hydropower facilities are not currently eligible for LIHI Certification: