Senate Picks Up Small Hydro Legislation
by Watch Staff
Mar 19, 2013 | 513 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print

Colorado’s Bennet Is Among Bill’s Co-Sponsors

Momentum continues to build in Washington for bipartisan legislative reforms that would help streamline the federal licensing requirements for small hydroelectric projects across the U.S. 

Last Friday, March 15, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) introduced the Hydropower Improvement Act in the Senate. The bill is companion legislation to the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act, which the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved in mid-February. 

“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 of Telluride, a longtime advocate of small-hydro reform legislation and president of the Colorado Small Hydro Association. 

Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colorado) is among the senate bill’s co-sponsors. “This bill will accelerate development of hydropower resources as a part of a clean and diverse energy portfolio,” he said.

The legislation, first introduced last year, is supported by the National Hydropower Association, American Rivers and COSHA, which testified in support of the bill at a congressional hearing last May.

Testimony focused on the fact that 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,” Johnson said. 

The proposed legislation solves this problem by creating a “regulatory off-ramp” from burdensome Federal Energy Regulatory Commission permitting requirements for non-controversial small hydro projects on existing conduits such as pipelines and canals. 

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 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 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. 

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