House Unanimously Passes Small Hydro Legislation
by Watch Staff
Feb 21, 2013 | 669 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act gushed past an important milestone last Wednesday, Feb. 13 when the U.S. House of Representatives approved its passage by a vote of 422-0.The bipartisan legislation seeks to streamline the federal licensing requirements for small hydro projects across the U.S.

Local supporters of the bill hailed its passage.

“This legislation will lead to the development of new, clean energy generation and create new jobs – particularly in rural areas,” said Colorado Small Hydro Association President Kurt Johnson of Telluride. “Hopefully this non-controversial, long-overdue, common-sense, bipartisan hydro reform legislation will quickly complete the legislative process.”

Now, the bill’s supporters are looking for a champion on the Senate side, with the hopes of passing it into law by year’s end.

The bill was introduced in the House less than a month ago by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wa.) and Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who were joined by seven original bipartisan co-sponsors. The House Energy and Commerce Committee favorably reported the bill out on a unanimous vote during its first meeting of the new Congress on Jan. 22.

The legislation, HR 267, is identical to HR 5892, introduced during the last session of Congress, which unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives in July of 2012 but did not clear the Senate before the end of the year. The bill was scored at “zero cost” to taxpayers by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office.

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 Regulatory Efficiency 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.

The bill 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 licensing exemption process; and directs the Department of Energy to study the role of pumped storage hydropower for integrating intermittent renewables.

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.

The bill now heads to the Senate, where Johnson predicts that prospects for action are high. Senate Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and the committee’s Ranking Member, Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), have signaled that hydropower is one area on which they intend to act. Murkowski introduced and Wyden co-sponsored a similar bill, S. 629, the Hydropower Improvement Act, during the last session of Congress. 

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