By Kurt Johnson
Colorado Small Hydro Association
For decades, federal permitting requirements for small hydroelectric generators have been time-consuming and costly, with permitting costs often exceeding the cost of the hydro equipment.
But on Tuesday, the U.S. House of Representatives dramatically streamlined the process, unanimously passing HR 5892, the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2012, introduced by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.).
Testifying May 9 before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, witnesses in support of the bill included representatives from the Colorado Small Hydro Association (COSHA), National Hydropower Association, American Rivers representing the environmental community and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). The bill was unanimously approved in committee.
The new act creates a “regulatory off-ramp” from FERC permitting requirements for non-controversial hydro projects smaller than 5 megawatts (MW), on existing conduits such as pipelines and canals.
The act also directs FERC to examine the feasibility of a two-year licensing process for certain low-impact hydropower projects, such as converting existing non-powered dams; allows more small projects to qualify for the exemption process; and directs the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to study the role of pumped storage hydropower for integrating intermittent renewables. Similar hydro legislation co-sponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), the Hydropower Improvement Act of 2011, passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote in April of 2011.
Studies have found tremendous untapped hydropower growth potential in the United States. Navigant Consulting found that 60,000 MW of hydroelectric capacity could be built by 2025, with the right policies in place. More than a million jobs could be created in pursuit of that goal. DOE recently found more than 12,000 MW of untapped potential at the nation’s 54,000 existing non-powered dams.
The 2012 COSHA annual conference, held in May, highlighted hydro development currently underway at existing non-powered dams and canals in Colorado, including Carter Lake, South Canal and Ridgway Reservoir. The recent COSHA conference also highlighted how Colorado has been leading the nation in development of innovative policies to accelerate the development of small hydro, including the grant and low-interest hydro loan programs offered by the Colorado Water Resources and Power Development Authority and the low-interest hydro loans available through the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
DeGette’s efforts have resulted in legislation that will lead to development of new, clean energy generation and create new jobs — particularly in rural areas. At COSHA, we hope the Senate will follow suit and complete work in passing this non-controversial, long-overdue, common-sense, bipartisan hydro reform legislation.
Kurt Johnson is president of COSHA.