The U.S. Department of Energy, U.S. Department of the Interior, and the U.S. Department of the Army for Civil Works announced on March 24 that the three agencies would continue to collaborate on hydropower development for at least another five years.

The agreement extends a memorandum of understanding (MOU) the three agencies originally signed in 2010, renewing their commitment to cooperate on an action plan for hydropower. The original agreement was successful in spurring the completion of 10 non-federal projects at Bureau of Reclamation facilities—adding 33 MW of capacity—with 40 additional projects currently in development. The Army Corps of Engineers also completed three non-federal projects, adding 19.4 MW, with 32 more projects in some stage of development.

Other accomplishments realized through the first MOU included:

  • Completing assessments and studies of hydropower resources.
  • Constructing a database for all existing U.S. hydropower infrastructure.
  • Developing tools for optimizing the operation of hydropower facilities.
  • Evaluating the potential for upgrades and modernizations.
  • Funding research projects to develop new hydropower generation technologies.
  • Delivering a report to Congress, examining the potential effects of climate change on water availability for hydropower.
  • Developing and implementing an integrative approach to assess complementary hydropower and environmental opportunities within river basins across the U.S.
  • Improving the licensing process for the development of new hydropower at existing federal dams.

“Our collaboration with the Department of the Interior and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers enables our nation to responsibly expand America’s largest source of clean, renewable energy,” Deputy Secretary of Energy Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall said in a press release announcing the agreement. “I am excited about this opportunity to diversify our nation’s energy portfolio, boost our energy security, and reduce carbon emissions with the advanced hydropower technologies that the Department of Energy is helping to develop and deploy.”

The agreement follows the announcement on March 19 of an executive order issued by President Obama that will cut the federal government’s greenhouse gas emissions 40% from 2008 levels over the next decade and increase the share of electricity the government consumes from renewable sources to 30%.  The measure is expected to save taxpayers $18 billion in avoided energy costs, according to the White House.

“Through the advancement of hydropower, the three agencies are helping meet President Obama’s goal of generating 80 percent of our energy from clean energy sources by 2035,” Deputy Secretary of the Interior Michael L. Connor said. “This agreement continues Interior’s commitment to renewable energy projects and expands on the original MOU by adding more goals and action items.”

The following are some of the objectives being promoted through the new MOU:

  • Improve the accuracy and reduce costs of water flow measurement technology.
  • Evaluate superconducting generator technology.
  • Further develop low-impact, low-cost hydropower technologies.
  • Develop design tools to improve environmental performance of turbines.
  • Further assess risks posed by climate change.

“As a leader in the hydropower industry, the Army is proud of our hydroelectric generation and greatly supports the extension of the original MOU as well as the Action Plan for Phase II,” said Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works Jo-Ellen Darcy. “It will help meet the Nation’s needs for reliable, affordable, and environmentally sustainable hydropower by building a long-term working relationship, prioritizing similar goals, and aligning ongoing and future renewable energy development efforts between DOE, DOI, and the Army Corps of Engineers.”

Aaron Larson, associate editor (@AaronL_Power, @POWERmagazine)