Small Hydro Reform Bill Introduced in the Senate

Mar 18th @ 8:02 am in News by Scott Staley

Hydro Project

Telluride, CO (March 15, 2013)  – The Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA) praised Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) for introducing S. 545, the Hydropower Improvement Act, bipartisan small hydropower permitting reform legislation.

“Thanks to Senator Murkowski for her leadership on this common sense legislation which will lead to development of new small hydro installations and job creation,” said Kurt Johnson, President of the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA).

The bipartisan legislation is co-sponsored by Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon), James Risch (R-Idaho), Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Patty Murray (D-Washington), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Michael Bennet (D-Colorado).

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

The Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013 is companion legislation to H.R. 267, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013, sponsored by Reps. Cathy McMorris-Rogers (R-Washington) and Diana DeGette (D-Colorado). H.R. 267 passed the House last month by a vote of 422-0.

The bill is supported by the National Hydropower Association, American Rivers and the Colorado Small Hydro Association, which testified in support of the bill at a congressional hearing last May.

Current federal permitting requirements for small hydro projects are time-consuming and costly.  For smaller systems, the cost of permitting can exceed the cost of the hydro equipment, which has been a barrier to small hydro development for decades.

The Hydropower Improvement Act solves this problem by creating a “regulatory off-ramp” from FERC permitting requirements for non-controversial hydro projects on existing conduits such as pipelines and canals which are less than 5-megawatts.

Details of the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2013:

  • Establishes an expedited process for FERC to consider “qualifying conduit” hydropower facilities through a 45 day public noticing process; if there is no objection expressed during that period, a project is no longer subject to FERC permitting requirements.
  • 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;
  • 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.

Studies conducted in recent years concluded that there is tremendous untapped U.S. hydropower growth potential.  Navigant Consulting found that 60,000 MW of hydroelectric capacity could be built by 2025, with the right policies in place.  Over one million cumulative jobs could be created in pursuit of that goal.  The Department of Energy recently found over 12,000 MW of untapped potential at the nation’s 54,000 existing non-powered dams.

Colorado currently has hundreds of hydro-related jobs, a number which has the potential to grow rapidly if the pending hydro reform legislation can become law. The National Hydropower Association has estimated 5.3 jobs created per megawatt of new hydro construction.  COSHA estimates approximately 200 MW of potential new hydro development in Colorado, which would mean approximately 1000 new jobs created in Colorado, including jobs for developers, engineers, attorneys and financiers as well as concrete workers, plumbers, carpenters, welders and electricians.

“Reform of the small hydro permitting process will lead to development of new, clean energy generation and create new jobs — particularly in rural areas.  Hopefully this non-controversial, long-overdue, common-sense, bipartisan hydro reform legislation will quickly complete the legislative process and be signed into law,” added COSHA President Kurt Johnson.

About the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA)

The Colorado Small Hydro Association is dedicated to accelerating development of small hydro in Colorado.  The 2012 COSHA Conference took place in Denver on Thursday, May 17, 2012 attracting over 200 attendees including hydro developers, equipment vendors, utilities, environmental consultants, and federal, state and local government officials.  The 2013 COSHA Conference is scheduled to take place in Denver on Tuesday, July 23, 2013.   Additional information about COSHA is available at www.smallhydro.co.