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Energy: Congress wants to boost hydropower production

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Turbine shafts at the Hoover Dam. Photo courtesy U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.

Bipartisan measure has backing of river conservation group

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — With huge potential for increased hydropower generation, a bipartisan U.S. Senate bill and a companion measure in the house could help reduce some the red tape currently required to bring new hydropower sources online.

The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and Ron Wyden (D-OR), would remove licensing barriers for smaller hydropower development and would require a study on a streamlined permitting process at existing dams and pumped storage products.

“In Colorado and the rest of the West, water is an extremely important resource for our families and the industries that drive our economy.” Bennet said. “This bill will accelerate development of hydropower resources as a part of a clean and diverse energy portfolio.”

The bill seeks to substantially increase the United States’ hydropower capacity in an effort to expand clean-power generation and spur domestic job creation. As the country’s largest source of renewable energy, hydropower allows us to avoid approximately 200 million metric tons of carbon emissions each year. According to the Department of Energy, the U.S. has the potential for 300 gigawatts of additional hydropower.

Details of the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013

  • Provides the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) the authority to extend preliminary permit terms;
  • Directs FERC to explore a possible two-year licensing process for hydropower development at non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage projects;
  • Establishes an expedited process for FERC to consider “qualifying conduit” hydropower facilities;
  • Increases the rated capacity for small hydro projects from five to 10 megawatts;
  • Calls for the Department of Energy (DOE) to study the technical flexibility and grid reliability benefits that pumped storage facilities could provide to intermittent renewable energy, and the range of opportunities for conduit hydropower potential;
  • Does not contain any spending authorizations and therefore does not represent any new funding.

The bill is also sponsored by James Risch (R-ID), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Patty Murray (D-WA), and Mark Begich (D-AK).

The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 is a companion bill to H.R. 267, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, sponsored by Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-WA) and Diana DeGette (D-CO). That bill passed the House last month by a 422-0 vote and is supported by both the National Hydropower Association and American Rivers.

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