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December 2012 Policy Study, Number 12-12


Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop for Power


Retrofitting Existing Dams With Hydroelectric Power



The process of retrofitting the existing dams, whether on the Mississippi River, the Red River, or any other navigable waterway in Iowa, begins and ends with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) licensing process. It is a cumbersome, multi-step process requiring close coordination with many, many government agencies and other organizations. Yet generating electrical power from water can provide both short-term cost savings to taxpayers and long-term benefit to local governments, in addition to being a new source of renewable energy.


FERC provides many resources, including a PowerPoint presentation and flow chart, showing the step-by-step process for applying for and being granted a license to install hydroelectric turbines on dams.[31] The official name of the current licensing process is the Integrated Licensing Process (ILP). This is supposed to be a more streamlined and efficient procedure, with clear timelines for completion of the environmental assessment, the clean-water evaluation, historic property evaluations, endangered-species mitigation, and other regulatory hurdles. There is an exemption from some of the regulatory steps for facilities producing less than five megawatts of power.


According to the ILP overview, one of the first steps is to establish connections with and arrange for input and coordination meetings with responsible agencies and interested stakeholders. The Iowa ‘initial consultation’ list consists of 55 federal and state agencies, Native American tribes, and non-governmental organizations. A table showing this list follows.


The four NGOs that are listed are all national environmental organizations. There are no local, Iowa-based NGOs, business development, or taxpayer advocacy groups listed as consultation groups. Based on reading the ILP directions and analysis of other projects, the most important stakeholders are the national environmental NGOs. Overregulation and regulatory overreach encouraged and supported by these environmental groups have caused serious problems in the hydroelectric energy approval process, as stated previously.


The following chart lists the FERC initial consultation recommendations.





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