An agreement to allow the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to use a nature conservancy area to mitigate environmentally harmful projects is close at hand. According to the muni board September 21, SMUD reached a memorandum of understanding with two environmental groups over using the utility's land to offset environmental impacts of SMUD's development in other areas. It would be known as the Rancho Seco Conservation Area. The environmental groups, the Sacramento Valley Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy, were not ready to reveal details about the plan, according to Amy Rutledge, Sacramento Valley Conservancy executive director. However, SMUD staff noted that the idea is for a 30-month deal with conservation groups to create an evergreen public easement as a pilot project. Easements such as the one proposed by SMUD near its decommissioned Rancho Seco nuclear power plant site can be traded under state environmental rules for exploiting sensitive habitats elsewhere. For instance, if a transmission line disturbs vernal pools in one part of the valley, a developer can set aside sites with vernal pools in another region to counter the disturbance. In other SMUD news, the utility continues to pursue a settlement concerning the relicensing of its Upper American River hydroelectric dam with federal regulators. The settlement was stalled recently, and the muni came under fire from river rafters and fishers for its inconsistent water releases down the river (Circuit, Aug. 4, 2006). The application to extend the original 50-year license for its 688 MW plant is before the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. It is set to expire in July 2007. "There's a window of opportunity to move forward," Jim Shetler, SMUD assistant general manager for energy supplies, told the board. Sharing information about river releases could help pry open that window, according to board members. They asked staff to figure out a way to post water level release information on the Internet or on changeable highway billboards at key river access points. In related news, FERC issued a guide September 21 for parties involved in hydro relicensing settlements. "To the extent parties are willing to agree to terms that cannot be included in a license, they can enter into side agreements enforceable in forums other than the commission," noted Joe Kelliher, FERC chair. The commission also emphasized the role of mitigating environmental effects in any new settlements.