The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on Monday approved by a 5-0 vote the licensing and installation of the nation’s first commercial hydrokinetic power station.

Hydrokinetic devices generate electricity directly from the flow of water without impoundments or diversionary structures that are typically used at conventional hydropower facilities. This marks the first time that FERC has approved the installation of a hydrokinetic device at an existing project, where it will generate power for delivery to the nation’s electricity grid.

The licensee for the existing project, the Minnesota City of Hastings, is installing a project at its 4.4-MW run-of-river hydropower plant on the Army Corps of Engineers’ Lock & Dam No. 2 on the Mississippi River. The city filed its license application with FERC in April of this year.

The power generated by the two hydrokinetic units made by Houston-based Hydro Green Energy LLC, each with a nameplate capacity of 100 kW, will be placed on the electric power grid through Hastings’ existing electrical infrastructure. One turbine will be installed in December and one in April 2009. The hydrokinetic units would have an average annual generation of 364 megawatt-hours, FERC said.

“I am thrilled to support today’s historic order that allows for harnessing more power from the Mississippi River,” FERC Commissioner Philip Moeller said. “I commend the City of Hastings and the federal agencies that approved this innovative approach toward developing more renewable electricity. I hope this is the first of thousands of similar projects that produce clean and renewable power from in-stream flows at existing dams.”

Hydro Green Energy’s technology, Hydro+, which the company says is “the first surface-suspended system in the industry,” is also deployable downstream from existing hydropower facilities. Once the project is operational, the company plans to perform extensive water quality, fish survival, and avian studies—even though it says that all modeling and simulations point to no water quality and, possibly, no fish mortality impacts.

Tidal and wave power developers in the U.S. face tough regulatory barriers, which hinge on environmental concerns. Hydro Green Energy said it believes “only rigorous, precise scientific studies will settle these issues once and for all and allow the industry to move forward in a more timely and orderly manner. To advance the understanding of hydrokinetic technologies for all stakeholders, the comprehensive study results will be made public as swiftly as possible, another first in the industry.”

The Hastings Project sits in the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area, a unit of the national park system. The U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Energy in November signed a memorandum of understanding and publicly announced a new program that will help the National Park Service showcase sustainable energy practices.

Sources: FERC, Hydro Green