FERC made an "early action" determination on Aug. 9 for Chelan County PUD's Rock Island hydroelectric project in Washington state, the first such finding made under 2018 legislation aimed at spurring investments in hydro projects.

Chelan filed a request for an early action determination on June 10, asking FERC to take into consideration its investments in efficiency upgrades and fisheries projects during the next relicensing proceedings for Rock Island. The early action provision was folded into broad water-projects authorization legislation, S. 3021 of the 115th Congress.

FERC determined that Chelan's $622-million investments in Rock Island's powerhouses 1 and 2, $4 million in planned spillway upgrades, and 2004 implementation of a habitat conservation plan "appear to meet" the requirements of the law. Chelan said it has spent $44 million on fish-passage studies, hatchery construction and operations, tributary protection and restoration, predator control, and ongoing fish-passage maintenance.

The commission said it could not make an early action finding for $40 million in planned upgrades of office, warehouse, and storage facilities, but added that the PUD could submit additional information during relicensing proceedings.

Under the law, enacted Oct. 23, 2018, FERC must give equal weight in relicensing proceedings to upgrades that would comply with new license terms and upgrades beyond existing license terms that have improved capacity and efficiency, improved safety, or resulted in environmental protection or mitigation.

Chelan argued it has made investments in Rock Island beyond the requirements of the 40-year license the project received from FERC in 1989.

Chelan pushed for the legislative change for five years. When the bill was signed into law, PUD General Manager Steve Wright said, "Congress has recognized that it is good public policy to encourage hydropower licensees to make new investments during the existing hydro license term, rather than waiting for relicensing."