Breaking News: Hydrocurrents

Senate subcommittee hears testimony on hydropower development legislation

Members of the U.S. Senate’s Committee on Energy and Natural Resources heard testimony Sept. 19 about legislation that could help expedite hydroelectric development along Bureau of Reclamation canals and ditches.

House Resolution 2842, called the “Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act,” passed the House earlier this year.

Now working its way through the Senate, H.R. 2842 received the support of Reclamation’s Deputy Commissioner for Policy, Administration and Budget, who testified before the Water and Power Subcommittee. “The Department of the Interior supports the goals of H.R. 2842, which aims to increase the generation of clean, renewable hydroelectric power in existing canals and conduits,” said Deputy Commissioner Grayford F. Payne. “The Department has an aggressive sustainable hydropower agenda, which we continue to implement under existing authorities.”

If approved by Congress, the bill would provide blanket authorization for installation of small hydropower on all Reclamation-owned canals and conduits. It also would require Reclamation to offer preference to water user organizations for the development of such projects under a Reclamation Lease of Power Privilege.

In addition, the bill would exempt small canal and conduit projects of less than 1.5 MW from the environmental assessment requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act and designate Reclamation’s Power Resources Office as the lead point of contact for requests to develop canal and conduit hydropower.

“Reclamation will continue to review and assess potential new hydropower projects that provide a high economic return for the nation, are energy efficient, and can be accomplished in accordance with protections for fish and wildlife, the environment, or recreation,” Payne says. “As the nation’s second largest hydropower producer, Reclamation strongly believes in the past, present and bright future of this important electricity resource.”

Michigan approves energy standard ballot language

Ballot language that could increase Michigan’s renewable energy standard to 25% by 2025 was approved in late August by Michigan’s Board of State Canvassers.

The proposal, which could appear on ballots as early as Nov. 6, would require the state’s electric utilities to provide at least a quarter of their annual retail sales from renewable energy sources – including hydropower – by 2025.

If passed, the initiative would amend Article IV of the Michigan Constitution with an addition called Section 55, or, informally, the “20 by 2025” plan. Michigan has no capacity limit for what it considers “renewable” hydropower, but the state does not define pumped-storage facilities as renewable.

Michigan also excludes hydropower facilities that use dams constructed after the effective date of the state’s Public Act 295 of 2008, unless it involves a repair, replacement or upgrade of a dam already in existence at the time of the act’s passage.

Utilities would also be prohibited from increasing consumer charges more than 1% per year to achieve compliance with the 2025 standard, although annual deadline extensions could be granted to prevent rate increases from exceeding that limit.

The plan is designed to develop the state’s renewable sources in a “manner that fosters a diversity of energy generation technologies.”

A study conducted by Michigan State University indicates the renewable energy standard could create at least 74,000 jobs in the wind, solar, biomass and hydropower industries.

Should Michigan adopt the initiative, it would join more than 30 states that have already passed similar legislation.

Riverbank Power breaks ground on Dorena plant

In late August, Riverbank Power broke ground on the 7.5-MW Dorena plant. This run-of-river powerhouse will be constructed on Dorena Lake, a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-owned dam.

The project will provide employment to 30 to 40 people during construction and is an investment of US$25.26 million in the economy, according to Riverbank Power.

“Today’s groundbreaking is great news for the Oregon families who will benefit from Dorena Lake’s clean, reliable, and affordable hydropower,” says Riverbank Power President and Chief Executive Officer John Douglas.

The project was given a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission operating license for 50 years.

Riverbank Power partnered with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the local watershed council, and stakeholders to protect the local wildlife habitats during development and operation of this project. As part of these efforts, the project will contribute funds for a restoration of the existing fish habitat and enhancements to the Row River watershed.

“I think this project can serve as an example for how other low-impact hydroelectric projects can be built, and I look forward to its completion,” says Oregon Senator Ron Wyden. “This project will provide 1,200 Oregon homes and businesses with renewable hydroelectric power, and do so while improving fish habitat and reducing CO2 emissions.”

The hydro plant is expected to be in operation in 2013.

Parties finalize agreements for 824-MW Muskrat Falls

A series of formal agreements to finalize Newfoundland and Labrador’s 824-MW Muskrat Falls hydropower project were reached at the end of July. The 13 deals, struck between private utility Emera Energy and crown corporation Nalcor Energy, are part of a 35-year deal that puts the controversial hydroelectric project one step closer to reality.

Muskrat Falls is one component of the Lower Churchill hydropower plan, which also includes the 2,250-MW Gull Island plant.

“Today’s signing represents a major step forward for Newfoundland and Labrador, and is another important milestone as we move closer towards a decision on sanctioning the project,” said Natural Resources Minister Jerome Kennedy.

The parties had previously agreed to a term sheet in November 2010, but the two failed to extend terms of the agreement before its one-year expiration date.

Sources say the government of Newfoundland and Labrador will hold a political debate sometime this fall before deciding whether to sanction the project, which has sparked controversy throughout its development.

Progress seems to be moving forward, however, as the government of Nova Scotia announced in July that it had begun drafting regulations to govern the province’s regulatory review of a proposed subsea transmission lines associated with the US$6.1 billion project.

FERC approves license transfers for Vermont projects

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has approved the transfer of 13 licenses totaling 48.648 MW from Central Vermont Public Service Corp. to Green Mountain Power Corp. in anticipation of the Vermont utilities’ upcoming merger.

In a Sept. 13 order, the commission approved the utilities’ request for action by Sept. 17 in order to accommodate a planned Oct. 1 closing of the merger transaction.

Licenses transferred include: 21.05-MW Lamoille River; 250-kW Pierce Mills, 700-kW Gage, 350-kW Arnold Falls, and 700-kW Passumpsic on the Passumpsic River; 275-kW Center Rutland, 14.03 Otter Creek, 3-MW Weybridge, and 2.25-MW Middlebury Lower on Otter Creek; 1.44-MW Cavendish on the Black River; 503-kW Taftsville on the Ottaquechee River; 1.9-MW Carver Falls on the Poultney River; and 2.2-MW Silver Lake on the Sucker Brook.

FERC also approved the utilities’ request to transfer the license of the Clay Hill Road transmission line.

Additionally, the utilities advised the commission they would be transferring ownership of two hydro projects that hold exemptions from FERC licensing and do not require FERC transfer approval. They are 1.5-MW Bradford/Smith on Waits River and 2.2-MW East Barnet on Passumpsic River.

Green Mountain already operates four hydroelectric projects totaling 23.72 MW: 5.52-MW Waterbury on the Little River, 2.6-MW Vergennes on Otter Creek, and 8.05-MW Essex and 7.55-MW Bolton Falls on the Winooski River.

In the first step of the merger, CVPS’ outstanding common equity is to be held by Northern New England Energy Corp., a unit of Montreal-based Gaz Metro Limited Partnership, which also owns all of Green Mountain’s common equity. In the second step of the merger, Green Mountain will succeed to the electric service responsibilities and ownership of CVPS’ facilities and CVPS will no longer exist.

Although ownership of CVPS’ hydro facilities will automatically move to Green Mountain, FERC approval was required for transfer of the 13 hydropower licenses, all in Vermont.

First U.S. commercial tidal turbine unit now online

North America’s first commercial marine tidal turbine is now online. The tidal turbine, located at Cobscook Bay in eastern Maine, began generating power in late August, but developer Ocean Renewable Power Company (ORPC) wanted to wait for confirmation from the unit’s operators to confirm, which the company did in mid-September.

Bangor Hydro, which owns the transmission lines that connect to the submerged turbine, says the unit is currently operating at a capacity of about 180 kW.

The program calls for the eventual installation of more units to be deployed through the next four years. When work is complete, the total installed capacity of the project will be 4 MW.

“This historic moment elevates the U.S. to the world stage,” says Chris Sauer, ORPC president and chief executive officer. “We are now ready to bring our tidal energy systems and expertise to the international market.”

Work moving ahead on 36.4-MW Red Rock in Iowa

Missouri River Energy Services is pre-qualifying builders for the 36.4-MW Red Rock project on the Des Moines River in Iowa. MRES, a joint action agency helping provide power to municipal utilities, is acting on behalf of Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, which finances the construction and acquisition of generation for the municipals.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission licensed the project in 2011.

MRES is seeking a company to: design and construct a cofferdam, construct a reinforced concrete powerhouse, excavate or tunnel water conduits connecting the intake with the dam and the dam to the powerhouse, remove concrete to allow penetration of the conduits through the dam, construct approach and tailrace channels, construct an intake structure and conduit linings, design and install hydromechanical equipment and a powerhouse crane, construct a switchyard and transmission line, and install the units and appurtenant and switchyard equipment.

Construction is to run from August 2013 to August 2016.

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