House Subcommittee Hears Testimony on Hydropower Regulatory Legislation

The Subcommittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on draft legislation that would improve the regulatory framework for hydropower development earlier this week.

The bipartisan bill — called the Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act of 2012 — was introduced by representatives Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.) and Diane DeGette (D-Colo.).

Contained in the bill are measures that would “facilitate the development of hydropower and conduit projects through several common-sense reforms,” including:

–Updating the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license exemption standard to streamline the development of more hydro projects;

–Giving FERC the option to exempt hydro projects with a capacity of less than 10 MW and conduit projects with capacity between 5 and 40 MW from the permitting process; and

–Allowing FERC to extend the terms of a preliminary permit for up to two years, for a total of five years, in order to allow a permittee sufficient time to develop and file a license application.

Currently, the licensing of hydropower projects can take longer than other forms of renewable energy, according to testimony given by former National Hydropower Association (NHA) president and Grant County Public Utility District official Andrew Munro.

Other resources — including wind and natural gas — have shorter approval time frames, putting hydropower at a competitive disadvantage when securing investment, Munro says. “Simply put, conducting business as usual will not work,” Munro says. “The Hydropower Regulatory Efficiency Act is an immediate step forward that congress can take to improve regulatory efficiency and tap into our nation’s undeveloped renewable energy resources in a pro-active and balanced approach.”

NHA, citing a recent U.S. Department of Energy study, says more than 12,000 MW of hydropower potential exists at the America’s 54,000 existing non-powered dams.

A Navigant Consulting report shows 60,000 MW of hydroelectric capacity and 1 million jobs could be created by 2025, should the nation make hydro power development a priority.

“Our bill is timely and targeted,” McMorriss Rodgers says. “It will create jobs and bolster America’s competitiveness in the energy sector.”

The bill is similar to one co-sponsored by senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) that passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on a voice vote in April 2011.

The House also recently voted on the “Bureau of Reclamation Small Conduit Hydropower Development and Rural Jobs Act of 2011“, which seeks to remove certain requirements from conduit projects built on U.S. Board of Reclamation properties.

NHA Director of Government Affairs Jeff Leahey discussed many of these pieces of pending legislation at NHA’s Annual Conference last month in Washington, D.C.

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