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FAQs Frequently Asked Questions

Lawrence Hydropower Relicensing

FERC is an independent federal agency that regulates energy industries. Its mission involves promoting development of a strong national energy infrastructure, including hydropower, which is currently the USA's leading renewable energy source. FERC does not propose, construct, operate, or own hydropower projects. It is responsible for the issuance of permits and licenses for hydropower projects and enforcing the conditions of each license for the duration of its term.

FERC also conducts periodic dam safety reviews to ensure safe project operations and inspections to ensure that project operators comply with environmental safeguards required under permits and licenses.

A FERC hydropower license is a comprehensive federal authorization for the construction, operation, and maintenance of a non-Federal hydropower facility or "Project." Under the Federal Power Act, FERC is authorized to issue hydropower licenses for a term of 30 to 50 years. A FERC license includes conditions, known as "Articles," which establish specific measures the Project must meet to mitigate any effects to environmental resources including fish and wildlife habitat, fish passage, water quality, recreation, historic resources, and socioeconomic effects. Through its comprehensive authority over hydropower licensees, FERC regulates a wide range of aspects of a hydropower project including dam safety, public safety, and property rights.

FERC reviews and approves as appropriate any amendments to a hydropower Project's license proposed by the Project owner or "Licensee," including modified project facilities or operation, or ownership changes.

When an existing FERC license nears its expiration date, the Licensee must initiate FERC's relicensing process to seek a “New License.” Between five and five-and-a-half years before an existing license expires, the Licensee must initiate the relicensing process by filing a Notice of Intent (NOI) to apply for a New License. Along with the NOI, the Licensee must also file a Pre-Application Document (PAD), which provides an overview of the existing Project's facilities, operations, and potentially affected resources. Essex Company filed its NOI/PAD for the Lawrence Project on June 16, 2023. FERC regulations require that the Licensee must file its Final License Application no later than two years before the current license expires, which in the case of the Lawrence Hydroelectric Project is November 30, 2026.

All relicensing applications must contain information that allows FERC to evaluate project effects and prepare environmental documents required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and its regulations. The process is designed to identify and obtain information before the filing of a license application (also known as pre-filing stage) that will inform a comprehensive review of project benefits, effects, and recommendations during the post-filing stage.

A New License authorizes the continued operation of an existing, previously licensed project like the Lawrence Project. Similar to an Original License, the term of a New License may be between 30 and 50 years.

After an applicant files its Notice of Intent and Pre-Application Document, FERC staff seeks input from the public, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), Indian tribes, and local, state, and federal resource agencies. The information that is gathered seeks to (1) identify environmental issues regarding a proposed or existing project and (2) determine what studies are needed to better understand these issues. During this “scoping” period, which generally refers to the process of identifying the potential impacts that a project would have on the environment or the community, FERC will determine which issues to address and analyze in environmental documents based on comments they receive.

Any resident is welcome to provide input regarding a new license. Important stakeholders include landowners affected by the project; representatives of local and national stakeholder groups; tribes; and local, state, and federal resource agencies.

After an applicant files its initial proposal and information document to begin the licensing process, FERC staff will hold public scoping meetings and a project site visit. Lawrence Project officials and FERC staff plan to hold a morning Project site visit and evening public scoping meeting on Wednesday, September 13. A second public scoping meeting will be held on Thursday, September 14 for those not able to attend the evening meeting.

During the pre-filing phase, FERC will accept written comments concerning the Lawrence Project. They also will document oral comments and questions made at public scoping meetings and site visits. The public and stakeholders also may submit study requests and participate in work groups during study plan development. All written comments must be submitted to FERC with the appropriate project number, P-2800-054 (also known as the docket number), along with a copy for the applicant. More information about on-line filing and accessing documents in the FERC record is provided below.

The applicant must work with FERC staff and stakeholders to develop a scientifically supported study plan that characterizes all relevant resources (for example, fish passage, water quality, recreation, historic properties) that may be affected by the Project and outlines potential effects on those resources. Results from the studies are used to develop the formal license application.

Developing and implementing a scientifically supported study plan typically takes one to two years to complete, including development of the study reports. FERC will begin its post-filing environmental analysis only after all of the necessary information gathering is complete.

In addition to describing existing environmental resources and the effects of the proposed project on those resources, a license applicant must provide detailed descriptions of project facilities and operations, along with any proposed changes (in the case of relicensing) and proposed mitigation measures for all identified environmental impacts.

Once a relicensing application has been filed and the commission accepts it as complete, FERC will again seek input from members of the public, nongovernmental organizations, tribes, along with all state and local agencies list on the applicant's license. The additional feedback is gathered in advance of FERC's preparation of environmental documents required by NEPA. Comments and recommendations made by stakeholders are considered by FERC staff in the development of the NEPA documents. During the post-filing phase, written comments about the license application and environmental documents, which may include recommendations for measures to be included as license conditions, will be considered.

FERC's licensing decision will be based on information contained in this record. FERC uses comments and environmental documents to determine whether issuing a new license for a project is appropriate and, if so, what environmental measures and operational conditions must be included in the license.

This website will be updated with links to licensing documentation as the relicensing process proceeds.

In addition, FERC maintains an eLibrary on its website ( which is a records information system that provides access to all public documents. All public documents submitted to and issued by the Commission can be accessed directly via eLibrary system. Please be sure to enter “P-2800” (no quotation marks) when searching eLibrary for the Lawrence Project. All written comments and transcripts of scoping meetings will be placed in the record for the project and made available to the public via the eLibrary.

FERC also maintains an eFiling system that allows interested parties to submit comments through its website, which can be accessed at FERC Online - Log In. All written submissions can be prepared in the same manner as paper filings. Because relicensing processes are docketed proceedings, all file submissions must include the project number along with the name and address of the person responsible for the filing. For assistance, please call FERC at (202) 502-6652 or reach them via e-mail at

Lawrence Hydropower Facility

The dam in Lawrence, also known as the Essex Dam or Great Stone Dam, was designed and constructed on the Merrimack River between 1845 and 1848 at Bodwell's Falls, located roughly halfway between Lowell and Newburyport where the Merrimack flows into the Atlantic Ocean. At the time, the site was built across a 750-foot portion of the river, where the banks were high enough to accommodate the construction of mills along the Merrimack, along with canals for power and diversion of excess water. On the north side of the river, a mile-long canal was developed along with a dam over 30 feet in height. At the time, the facility spanned more river footage than anywhere else in the world.

The present Lawrence Hydroelectric Project received its FERC license on December 4, 1978. The modern hydroelectric plant located at the southern end of the Essex Dam, including the powerhouse, turbines and generators, fish passage structures, and recreational facilities, were commissioned in 1981.

Hydropower facilities protect fish that migrate upstream via fish passages, or structures that allow migrating fish to swim over or around an obstacle on a river. Known as fishways, which can include ladders, lifts and improved channels, these detour routes all contain features that facilitate the passage of fish over the dam to continue their upstream migration. Similarly, downstream migrating fish are provided passage around the dam and powerhouse through a “fish bypass.” The Lawrence project contains a fish lift, a downstream fish bypass, and a permanent ladder used by ascending eels. The project's passage facilities' operation, effectiveness, maintenance, and potential improvements are continually supervised by state and federal natural resource agencies comprised of the Technical Committee for Anadromous Fishery Management of the Merrimack River Basin.

Several species are found in the Merrimack River, including American shad, river herring, Atlantic salmon, sea lamprey, and American eel.

The facility has a maximum generating capacity of 16.8 megawatts (MW). On average, the Lawrence site annually generates over 71,000 megawatt-hours (MWh) of electricity, enough to power about 7,000 homes.

All electricity produced by the Lawrence Project is sold into the six-state ISO New England (ISO-NE) grid, providing an important renewable energy resource for the New England region. ISO-NE administers the region's wholesale electricity market and provides reliability planning for the bulk electricity system.