House Unanimously Approves Hydro Bill, Prospects for Passage Are Positive in Senate

The U.S. House voted 422–0 last week, approving a bill that could facilitate the development of small hydropower and conduit projects and direct the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to consider streamlining its two-year permitting process.

The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2013 (H.R. 267) authored by Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) seeks to exempt hydropower projects smaller than 10 MW from FERC licensing procedures, compared to the current limit of 5 MW. It would also remove conduit projects under 5 MW from FERC jurisdiction and increase the conduit exemption to 40 MW for all projects. Finally, it would provide FERC with the ability to extend preliminary permits and require the regulatory body to examine a two-year licensing process for non-powered dams and closed-loop pumped storage.

The bill now moves to the Senate, where its prospects look "good," as Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), ranking member on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee told The Hill last week. Senate Energy Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Murkowski introduced a similar bill, S. 629, The Hydropower Improvement Act, last Congress.

The House approved a bill sponsored by Rodgers and DeGette, H.R. 5892, in the 112th Congress, but it did not come to a vote in the Senate before the end of the session. Original co-sponsors of that bill included Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), Rep. Ben Ray Lujan (D-N.M.), Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.), Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah), and Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.).

According to the National Hydropower Association (NHA), hydropower provides about two-thirds of the nation’s renewable electricity with 100,000 MW installed nationwide. "Estimates done by Navigant Consulting indicate that 60,000 MW of hydropower could be added with the right policies in place, while creating 1.4 million cumulative jobs. The legislation would unlock some of that untapped potential," the industry group said in a statement.

The Department of Energy last year reported that more than 2,500 dams in the U.S. provide 78 GW of conventional and 22 GW of pumped-storage hydropower. But the nation also has more than 80,000 dams that do not produce electricity—facilities that, if outfitted with hydroelectric power plants, could generate an estimated 12 GW and increase existing U.S. conventional hydropower capacity by roughly 15%, it said.

Last week, the bill’s approval was lauded by hydro companies and environmental groups. "This bill takes direct aim at two of the biggest goals for the hydropower industry as a whole: streamlining the regulatory process and expanding pumped storage and small hydro across the United States. By making these small but significant changes, we can create thousands of jobs across the country while expanding our use of clean and renewable energy, one of President Obama’s top second term goals," said Voith Hydro US President and CEO Kevin Frank.

Sources: POWERnews, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), NHA, The Hill

—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer (@POWERmagazine)