Hydro Currents

Bill could raise spending limit for Reclamation dam safety improvements

A bill introduced to the Senate in late January would adjust the spending cap on dam safety improvements for infrastructure managed by the U.S. Department of Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation.

Senate Bill 1946 – introduced by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and co-sponsored by Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii – would amend the Reclamation Safety of Dams Act of 1978.

Previous revisions to the 1978 act currently set the limit at US$1.4 billion in annual dam safety spending for close to 480 Reclamation-owned dams and dikes in 17 states. With that money, 85% of most dam safety improvements are covered by the federal government, with the remaining tab picked up by the operator.

Changes made by S.B. 1946, however, would allow for additional spending should dam safety projects require more money than the operator might be able to contribute.

The bill has been passed to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources for further consideration.

Corps’ Lt. Gen. Thomas P. Bostick to keynote at HydroVision International

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Lieutenant General Thomas P. Bostick will participate as a keynote speaker at the upcoming HydroVision International 2014 conference and exhibition in July in Nashville, Tenn.

Bostick was named the 53rd U.S. Army Chief of Engineers and Commanding General of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in May 2012. He serves as the senior military officer overseeing most of the nation’s civil works infrastructure and military construction. Bostick is responsible for the Corps’ environmental protection reports, regulatory permit programs and emergency response mission to support the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The Corps is the largest owner and operator of hydroelectric projects in the U.S., with 75 hydropower plants that have a cumulative output capacity of 20,747 MW. The Corps’ Nashville District is one of its largest producers of hydroower, with 914 MW of capacity from nine plants in the Cumberland River basin.

In addition to its own facilities, the Corps if actively working with more than 65 non-federal partners to advance the development of hydropower at its non-powered dams.

Omnibus bill could change U.S. participation in international hydro development

Buried deep within the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2014 is a clause that could potentially affect the role the U.S. takes in large-scale international hydroelectric development.

The omnibus spending bill, officially House Resolution 3547, was signed by President Barack Obama on Jan. 17. The massive document is the result of the 113th Congress’ failure to pass any of a dozen regular appropriations bills before the beginning of fiscal year 2014.

Per Section 7060.a.7.D: “The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution that it is the policy of the United States to oppose any loan, grant, strategy or policy of such institution to support the construction of any large hydroelectric dam (as defined in “Dams and Development: A New Framework for Decision-Making,” World Commission on Dams [November 2000]).”

According to the World Commission on Dams, a “large dam” is one “with a height of 15 meters or more from the foundation.” Dams between 5 and 15 meters in height with reservoir volumes of more than 3 million cubic meters are also considered “large.”

The legislation could impact American support for international hydropower projects in that the U.S. has a hand in a number of international development lending agencies – perhaps most notably the World Bank. The World Bank announced a renewed support for large hydroelectric development during the International Hydropower Association World Congress in May 2013, and the U.S. is the organization’s largest shareholder.

It is unclear what actual changes H.R. 3547 might have that the legislation lapses after the end of the current fiscal year.

DOE names Bonneville Power Administration head

The U.S. Department of Energy named Elliot Mainzer the new administrator for the Bonneville Power Administration in late January. Mainzer replaces Bill Drummond, who was placed on administrative leave July 15, 2013, before the release of an investigation of BPA by the Department of Energy’s Inspector General.

The 16-year energy industry veteran was named BPA’s acting administrator during Drummond’s absence, after being named deputy administrator in February 2013.

“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead BPA during this challenging and historic time for the region,” Mainzer said. “I am excited to work with our employees, customers and constituents, state, local and tribal governments, and the northwest congressional delegation to meet the energy and environmental challenges facing the northwest and position BPA to continue to deliver value to the region well into the future.”

Mainzer has held a number of management positions within BPA’s power, transmission and corporate organizations since joining the agency in 2002, including trading floor manager, manager of transmission policy and strategy, and executive vice president of corporate strategy.

Mainzer led BPA’s strategic planning and asset management programs and provided policy direction for BPA’s work on renewable resource integration and technology innovation. He has also provided leadership and coordination of regional initiatives, including the Northwest Power Pool Members’ Market Assessment and Coordination Initiative, and, as acting administrator, served as chair of the U.S. Entity for the Columbia River Treaty.

Upgrades to Ontario’s Lower Mattagami project ahead of schedule

Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation has announced that a new 67-MW turbine unit is generating power at its 138-MW Little Long plant. Little Long, part of the Lower Mattagami project, is home to one of several powerhouses that are receiving equipment upgrades and replacements. Once completed, Lower Mattagami’s cumulative capacity will increase from 486 MW to 924 MW, OPG said.

“This achievement is the result of OPG’s project management practices,” OPG President and Chief Executive Officer Tom Mitchell said. “These include up-front planning, collaborating with partners and stakeholders to address issues, and careful execution and monitoring of results.”

The project is being executed in partnership with the Moose Cree First Nation. “This project has changed the economic landscape of the Moose Cree First Nation and the surrounding area,” Chief Norm Hardisty Jr. said. “It is environmentally sustainable and has created many economic opportunities, including hundreds of jobs for our citizens, as well as other Ontarians. This project has enabled our First Nation to establish a strong economic foundation to build on in the years ahead.”

OPG said the project – which also includes work at the 142-MW Harmon and 154-MW Kipling hydropower plants – is “tracking on schedule and on budget.” Work on all of the Lower Mattagami projects is expected to be completed in 2015.

Corps report identifies more than 220 non-powered sites for hydro development

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is hoping to encourage the non-federal development of hydroelectric power capacity at non-powered sites with the release of a new agency report. The study, titled Hydropower Resource Assessment at Non-Powered USACE Sites, identified 419 potential locations for hydro development. The number was then pared to 223, based on the criteria that the site must have a capacity of 1 MW or more of hydroelectric power.

The Corps also stipulated that the sites could not include a current Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) license and that there could be no obvious hindrances to project development.

According to the study, the sites combine for a cumulative output potential of 6,256 MW, although the Corps said only 2,818 MW of those would likely be “feasible under economic assumptions made in the report.”

“Our goal was to assess the feasibility of hydropower potential at USACE sites using a broad set of energy and economic criteria,” Corps National Hydropower Program Manager Kamau Sadiki said. “This assessment does not take the place of a technically detailed site-by-site feasibility study, which would be required if hydropower development were to be undertaken at any of the sites.”

Developers interested in conducting feasibility studies at any identified site would need to acquire a FERC preliminary permit and contact the Corps district with jurisdiction over the site.

FERC sets geographic limits on municipal preference

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has for the first time established geographic limits on the granting of municipal preference in the issuance of preliminary permits to study developing hydroelectric projects.

Assuming two permit applications are substantially equal, the Federal Power Act requires FERC to grant preference to municipalities when they compete with non-municipalities for the same site. The FPA defines “municipality” as a “city, county, irrigation district, drainage district or other political subdivision or agency of a state competent under the laws thereof to carry on the business of developing, transmitting, utilizing or distributing power.”

In a Dec. 19 order, FERC limited municipal preference based on the fact the municipality, Western Minnesota Municipal Power Agency, is located almost 400 miles from the project site.

Western Minnesota and FFP Qualified Hydro 14 LLC, a unit of Free Flow Power, filed competing applications on Feb. 1, 2013, to study developing a hydro project at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Saylorville Dam on the Des Moines River in Polk County, Iowa. FFP’s filing was to renew an expiring preliminary permit it already held for the project, 14.4-MW Saylorville Dam Water Power project. Western Minnesota filed for the 15-MW Saylorville Hydroelectric project and asserted municipal preference.

FERC rejected Western Minnesota’s claim, saying the best reading of the FPA statute is that municipalities should be accorded preference only with respect to the development of water resources that are in their vicinity. “…it is difficult to discern what public interest is served by giving a municipality a preference with respect to a project that is far from the site of the municipality,” the order said. “To do so would effectively make municipalities super-competitors with respect to all new hydropower developments, regardless of their location.”

FERC added that its interpretation is supported by FPA Section 4(f) that requires the commission to give notice of a permit application “to any state or municipality likely to be interested in or affected by such application.”

The commission found that the Western Minnesota and FFP applications were substantially equal and were filed at the same time. As a result, it held a drawing for a “first-in-time tiebreaker.” FFP won and received a successive permit for the project.

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